GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The last play said it all. When the Chicago Bears needed a game-tying touchdown, their starting quarterback was running desperately with a ball that had been lateraled to him by running back Tarik Cohen, hoping to find another teammate who might take a pitch to the end zone in a miraculous finish. The trick play wound up falling short in the end. The Bears now have to hope their quarterback's tenure doesn't end with such predictable disappointment.
It's not that Mitchell Trubisky played poorly in the Bears' 21-13 loss to the Packers on Sunday. It's that he simply didn't play well enough for his team to win. That too often has been one of the frustrating takeaways in Chicago's struggles this season, and it was once again true as the Bears left Lambeau Field. If this team is ever going to reignite the excitement it created last season -- when Trubisky was performing at a much higher level for a squad that went 12-4 and won the NFC North -- it has to figure out how to make the quarterback a more consistent difference-maker.
"We didn't do enough today," Trubisky said. "The plays we normally make, we just didn't. Some plays they made and we didn't. That's part of football. The plays we didn't make, we either got out-executed, we didn't do our job or we weren't on the same page. We're going to have to just go back and watch the film, but it just felt like it wasn't enough."
Trubisky certainly doesn't deserve all the blame for how his year has unfolded. After all, he didn't make the decision to approach the preseason as if he was Peyton Manning and didn't need to throw a single pass in those exhibitions. He also isn't responsible for a running game that ranked 29th in the NFL when this game kicked off or an offensive line that didn't have many answers for the Packers' pass rush on Sunday. There's no doubting his issues easily can be summarized as one colossal joint effort.
The problem is the Bears too often need him to be more than what he is in critical games like these. Trubisky had been enjoying a nice stretch over the previous two contests -- in wins over Detroitand Dallas -- when he completed 75 percent of his attempts and tossed six touchdown passes against two interceptions. It was a different story when Chicago came to Lambeau and faced an opponent with double-digit wins. Suddenly, the numbers weren't so impressive, as he had a 54.7 completion percentage, one touchdown and two interceptions against Green Bay.
It's worth noting that there had been plenty of talk lately about Trubisky's growth from his early-season struggles. He reportedly was gaining more confidence and shedding some of the stress he instinctively puts on his shoulders. That didn't look to be the case on Sunday. Against Green Bay, it appeared that Trubisky was doing what he's done far too often -- displaying his inconsistent tendencies at the worst possible time.
When asked about Trubisky's day, head coach Matt Nagy said, "For the most part, I thought there were times when he used his legs and extended plays and made some good throws on the run. Then there were a few he missed, as well. When you throw the ball that many times (Trubisky had 29 completions on 53 attempts), that's normal. That's going to happen. The big picture is that we didn't get the win, we could've played better in all three phases and you can point to a lot of different things. But I'm going to stay positive with our guys because I appreciate their fight."
The "fight" that Nagy referred to was his team's unwillingness to let the Packers blow them out after Green Bay took a 21-3 lead midway through the third quarter. Trubisky deserves credit for trying to rally his squad -- he threw for 159 yards in the fourth quarter -- but he also couldn't get his team that game-tying score when it counted most. The Bears had three possessions in the final seven minutes to try and knot the game at 21. The first ended with Packers defensive end Dean Lowry intercepting Trubisky, the second with Trubisky missing wide receiver Allen Robinson on a fourth-and-10 pass and the third with that wild sequence of laterals that culminated with Packers cornerback Tramon Williams recovering a fumble on Green Bay's 2-yard line.
Sure, Trubisky and his teammates showed plenty of grit. They also displayed an ample amount of ineptitude all day -- and that simply has to change for this team to be a major player in the NFC again. The first step involves Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace determining exactly what they want Trubisky to be. He thrived as a multidimensional threat in 2018, but part of his struggles in 2019 can be traced to opponents effectively defending his ability to run around when opportunities arise.
"We did not want him to get loose with his legs," said Packers head coach Matt LaFleur. "I think our red zone defense has been pretty solid all year long. They scored the one touchdown (on a 2-yard touchdown pass from Trubisky to Anthony Miller). There was definitely some bend there, but our guys rose up when we had to and made the necessary plays."
It's not hard to see Nagy eventually finding more creative ways to develop Trubisky's game. Nagy was part of the Kansas City Chiefs staff that helped energize Alex Smith's career during his time with that franchise (with Smith becoming a quarterback who could threaten teams with his athleticism). The bigger question is whether the Bears will give Trubisky a more effective running game to ease the pressure on him. It also wouldn't hurt if Trey Burton, who's on injured reserve, someday turned into the kind of security-blanket tight end most young quarterbacks desperately need.
The Bears have more than enough talent on defense that they don't need a high-powered offense. What they require is a competent unit on that side of the football, one that has a clear sense of what it is and how it has to operate. Trubisky is about to wrap up his third year in Chicago, which means it's time to start thinking long and hard about where this is heading. He's not going to end up in the same stratosphere as Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson -- the two quarterbacks famously selected after him in the 2017 draft -- but he also doesn't have to be discarded in the same way Tennessee did Marcus Mariota earlier this year.
So this is really more about how the Bears want to proceed. Trubisky has his strengths, but this year we've seen too many of his weaknesses. It's time for this franchise to decide what it wants his career to be from this point on. More importantly, Bears brass needs to be better at determining exactly how they're going to help him get there.