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The rust is history: With Trubisky back on track, Bears have a path to the title

Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky dismissed rust as an excuse for his worst performance of the season against the Rams on Dec. 9, when he returned after missing two games with a sprained right shoulder.

On a cold night at Soldier Field against a pretty good defense, Trubisky completed 16 of 30 passes for 110 yards and a touchdown and had three interceptions for a career-low 33.3 passer rating.

He insisted it wasn’t rust. But it sure looks like that was the case. Since that game, Trubisky has responded with three credible, impressive-if-unspectacular performances that have put him back on the arc toward franchise-quarterback status.

In victories against the Packers, 49ers and Vikings, Trubisky completed 76.0 percent of his passes (63-for-83) for 644 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions. It’s the first time in his brief career that he hasn’t thrown an interception in three consecutive games. And he had downfield pass plays of 43 and 41 yards against the 49ers and Vikings — two pretty good defenses.

Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky has completed 76 percent of his passes (63-for-83) for 644 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions in his last three games. | AP Photo/Rick Scuteri

As good as the Bears’ defense has been lately, success in the postseason still depends largely on Trubisky being a better quarterback in the playoffs than he was in September and October, when he was prolific on some days and mistake-prone on others. The Bears are convinced he has come a long way.

“He just handles adversity [better],” coach Matt Nagy said. “He knows how to run this offense now. He’s at a point where when he calls a play in the huddle, he can start looking at the defense rather than looking at the offense.”

The wild-card game Sunday against the Eagles at Soldier Field will be Trubisky’s 27th as an NFL starter. At this stage of his development, Trubisky is always living on the edge — a split-second decision from a big play or a bad mistake. Against the 49ers, he threw an end-zone interception that was nullified by a penalty and an ill-advised lateral to Tarik Cohen that resulted in a turnover.

In the playoffs, all it takes is one bad play to ruin a great performance. For a second-year quarterback, making those split-second decisions in the heat of a playoff battle is a huge X-factor.

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“I would say I’m a lot better [at it],” Trubisky said. “Obviously, there’s no substitute for experience. You do the best you can to try to simulate that in practice, but nothing comes close to the game. I think I’ve gotten better through the season — just continuing to make adjustments, making those split-second decisions and just continuing to get better. And being critical of myself when I don’t, and learning from those mistakes.

“So it’s an ongoing process — that’s what really separates the good quarterbacks from the great quarterbacks, I guess.”

That sets up an intriguing scenario for Trubisky in the playoffs. He clearly learns well but usually from experience. It remains to be seen if he has enough of that to keep ascending in the postseason. One thing’s for sure: Going in, Trubisky’s teammates have a faith in him that is unbreakable.

“[He has] the intangibles that [few] guys have,” tight end Trey Burton said. “Some of the throws he’s been able to make. Some of the plays he’s gotten us into . . . the times when teams are blitzing and the way he’s able to scramble. You’re starting to see him show up a lot more now that we have the whole season under our belt. It’s fun to play with him.”

“I just know the moment’s not too big for Mitch,” guard Kyle Long said. “I’ve watched him grow into those situations. He’s done a great job progressing each time he goes on the field.”