Bears head coach Matt Nagy kept Mitch Trubisky on a short leash on Sunday. Nagy yanked his starting quarterback in favor of backup Nick Foles, and the latter pulled a rabbit out of his hat in leading the Bears to a 30-26 victory over the Falcons.
As if the Bears hadn’t used enough of their fourth-quarter magic through the first two games of the season.
Despite leading the Bears to a 2-0 record and throwing three touchdown passes in the fourth quarter against the Lions in Week 1, Sunday was not Trubisky’s day.
Bears offense stalls in first half
Give at least some credit to Trubisky for leading the Bears on two long drives in the first quarter against the Falcons. Trubisky led the Bears on a 9-play, 47-yard drive to open the game and a 12-play, 58-yard drive on their next possession.
The only problem with those drives is that they netted just three points — the first ending with a missed field goal before Cairo Santos converted his second attempt. The Bears went three-and-out on their next two possessions before — finally — scoring a touchdown to close the first half.
The Falcons led 16-10 heading into halftime, a reasonable game score but with woefully inadequate offensive production. It was particularly egregious considering the Falcons defense had allowed a league-worst 39 points per game through the first two weeks.
Something had to be done to spark the Bears offense. The Falcons were moving the ball fairly uninhibitedly against the Bears defense.
Nagy gives Trubisky the hook after third-quarter interception
On the first possession of the second half, the Falcons drove 75 yards on 7 plays and tacked on a touchdown to extend their lead to 23-10.
How did the Bears offense respond? With a three-and-out and a Trubisky interception intended for Jimmy Graham over the middle. The two never appeared to be on the same page. The Falcons netted a field goal off the turnover and made it a 16-point game.
On the Bears’ next offensive series, Foles was on the field while Trubisky stood idly on the sideline.
Foles endured rocky first few possessions
When Foles entered the game, you could tell he brought some extra urgency to the offense and it did provide an initial spark.
Foles led the offense on a 7-play, 39-yard drive down toward the red zone. He threw a pass to Allen Robinson in the end zone, which was ripped out of the receiver’s hands and was initially ruled a touchdown. Upon review, the officials overturned the call, ruling that Robinson never completed the “process of the catch” and awarded the defender with an interception.
As a side note, my first instinct was to criticize Robinson — and rightfully so — for allowing a defender to rip the ball away from him for the second straight week. That was soft, and that can’t happen for the No. 1 receiver who wants to get paid.
After watching the replay, though, I thought Robinson had a justifiable complaint. He caught the ball, landed in the end zone on his side, and then had the ball taken away from him. To my knowledge, I thought if a receiver had possession and landed in the end zone, it was a touchdown.
But I digress.
On Foles’ next drive, the Bears went three-and-out. But on the drive after that, Foles again led the Bears down the field, covering 45 yards on 9 plays. The Bears went for it on fourth down and Foles threw a great strike to Anthony Miller in the end zone. The play was initially ruled a touchdown, but the ball clearly moved in Miller’s arms and touched the turf.
Yet again, Foles’ receivers let him down on what should have been two touchdowns.
Another fourth-quarter comeback?
If you didn’t get enough fourth-quarter magic from the Lions game, you got your fill Sunday against the Falcons. Much like Trubisky’s three-touchdown quarter, Foles had one of his own.
The Bears defense got the offense the ball back with about 9 minutes to play in the game, still down 26-10. Foles marched the offense down the field, driving 62 yards on 9 plays, and he connected with Graham for the tight end’s second touchdown of the game. The failed two-point conversion attempt kept it a two-score game, 26-16.
After a second-straight Falcons three-and-out, Foles took over again.
Three plays into the ensuing drive, Foles hit Robinson along the left sideline. The receiver shook off two defenders and sprinted for the end zone. The Bears narrowed the Falcons’ lead to three points, 26-23.
The Bears defense came up huge again, holding the Falcons to a third-straight three-and-out. And again, Foles answered the bell.
The Bears offense began their next drive already close to field goal range. But I didn’t want them to play it safe and go for the field goal to tie the game. I wanted 6. The Bears faced a 3rd-and-8 from the Falcons’ 28-yard-line. Knowing Santos’ kicking struggles this season, I felt the Bears badly needed to pick up the first down.
— BearsBeat.com (@bearsbeat) September 27, 2020
Sure enough, the Bears did more than go for a first down. They went for it all.
Foles connected with Miller in the middle of the end zone. This time the receiver hung on for the go-ahead touchdown, giving the Bears a 30-26 lead.
Bears defense seals the deal
For as poorly as I thought the defense played in the first half, their performance down the stretch was impressive. As I mentioned, three straight three-and-outs gave the Bears offense a chance to work its magic. And then on the final drive, they closed it out.
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, no stranger to these tight ball games in crunch time, picked up two straight first downs on two consecutive plays. It looked like this game could come down to the closing seconds just as it had done the previous two weeks.
This time, however, the Bears jumped the gun.
Ryan attempted a pass to stud receiver Calvin Ridley that sailed over his head and into the arms of safety Tashaun Gipson.
One first-down run by David Montgomery later, the Bears went into Victory Formation and secured their third victory of the season.
Foles or Trubisky: Where do the Bears go from here?
The big question on everybody’s mind after the game, for which Nagy gave no answer, is who is going to be the Bears quarterback next week against the Colts?
Conventional wisdom says ride with the hot hand. Foles came in and gave the offense an immediate spark. He moved the ball well, even on drives that didn’t end up with points. He’s familiar with the offense and all of its intricacies. Nagy can “take the training wheels off,” so to speak.
That being said, Foles also has a poor track record of being a starter. Plus, the Bears want to give every opportunity to Trubisky to succeed. So, even though I disagree with it, I can at least understand the argument of trotting Trubisky back out there next week and keeping Foles on standby.
My preference is for Foles to remain at the helm and be given a shot to see what he can do as a starter with this particular offense. The Bears have a pretty good Colts team riding into town next week with a young defense that can make plays. They intercepted Jets quarterback Sam Darnold three times this week, returning two of those for touchdowns.
Whoever does get the call will have to be prepared for what the Colts bring.