Say this for Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky: even after a career game against the Bengals, with but nine NFL starts, he knows the path to greatness is still arduous.
He's not going to spend any time reveling in small successes. Validation comes from building on consistency.
“I don’t know about the validation part, because I feel like that is kind of on the outside (of the building), but I just feel confident I’m getting better each week," said Trubisky. "For us to come out with a win, that’s the most important thing and the most important thing for me.”
With all due respect to the budding face of the franchise, it had to be quite heartening for the organization to see a lot of its draft picks from this year, and in the past few seasons, shine more than they have all year in Cincinnati. To make a statement that they're not going to lie down with nothing to play for regarding any sorts of playoff implications. To continue to play all out despite having a lame duck coach and staff.
Fellow rookie safety and birthday boy Eddie Jackson, who had two takeaways on Sunday and became the first Bears safety to have four turnovers in a season since 2013, alluded to the importance of games like this for the Bears' core.
‘‘We’re trying to play for the culture, where we want to be next year. Even though we can’t go to the playoffs this year, it’s a great chance to start and build on it," said Jackson. "That’s our mindset ... getting it back to Chicago Bears football. We’ve got to change the standard, and we’re starting with these last four games.’’
For these Bears, this December is about putting a stamp on the league for future growth. For a football team that wants to let the NFL know they've arrived, as early as next season. They're not going to mail it in. They're going to use this time as a valued jumping off point.
In a 33-7 dominant win over the Bengals - by far the Bears' most complete game of the 2017 season - it's hard to argue with Jackson's sentiment.
482 yards of offense, including Chicago's fourth 200-plus yard rushing game of the year as a team. Limiting Cincinnati to 234 yards of offense and a 25-percent conversion rate on third down, along with two takeaways. The Bears were so good on Sunday, they overcame the usual ill-advised John Fox game management regarding, for example: not having any timeouts at the end of the first half. All of this speaks to the somehow newly swag-filled Bears never being in any real danger of falling apart.
Who contributed the most to this success, you ask? Why none other than the Bears' primary four offensive horsemen.
There's sophomore runner Jordan Howard: who became the first Chicago running back to ever run for 1,000 yards in his first two seasons with his bulldozing 147-yard, two touchdown game.
Yes, you read that correctly. Walter Payton didn't accomplish that. Gale Sayers didn't do that. Matt Forte, also, never reached that standard. Howard, well on his way to a second consecutive Pro Bowl season to start his career, stands alone in this regard as he rewrote Bears' running back history: quite the feat when you think about it.
How about the rookie Tarik Cohen?
There might not be an NFL player with worse fortune regarding touchdowns this year as Cohen's had two taken away by stepping out of bounds (one not legitimate against the Steelers, one factual on Sunday) and another lost due to penalty. Yet, there he was, plugging away, making Bengals defenders look silly routinely on his way to edge with his trademark gizmo-like shiftiness. A true "joystick" in every sense of the word.
Even while losing two scoring plays, Cohen still averaged six yards a carry and had 131 all-purpose on 18 total touches. That's absurdly special. Any talk of him not being capable of lasting in the NFL due to his diminutive size way back in camp has to be laughed away now.
Then, its always funny to see these Bears learn that their best freakishly gifted option on the roster at a position is, indeed, their best freakishly gifted option.
Everyone and their mother knew another rookie in Adam Shaheen was being underused of late, especially in a lost season. Everyone else understood he was the most talented tight end Chicago possessed. It took until Week 14 for the Bears themselves to make a concerted effort to get him the ball, as he caught four of five targets for 44 yards and a score. Better late than never.
The most prominent example of this came early in the fourth quarter. On third and short, the Bears and Trubisky went to Shaheen on a goal line fade. No dice. But he drew a pass interference. On the very next play on first and goal, they threw another ball to the young 6-foot-6 tight end in the corner. This time, a touchdown.
Faith in talented players paying off. Giving youth responsibility and letting them play working out. Who would've ever considered such a ludicrous thought?
Last but not least, the most important development from Chicago's blowout win: a career game from Trubisky, who was virtually unflappable and mechanical in his precision.
There was something different about the way Trubisky played on Sunday. Something you're not really used to with Bears quarterbacks. You never felt he made any errant throws or mistakes, which was striking.
It's what star passers do.
No, what leaders do, in taking a game over and being in complete command of an offense while the opposing defense is left grasping at straws with no answers. How helpless do defenders feel when the likes of Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, or Drew Brees are dialed in? There's no counter, after all. All you can do is sit back and let them have their way.
That's the kind of performance Trubisky had against the Bengals. He was decisive, accurate, and prepared for every haymaker Cincinnati was ready to throw in his direction. Essentially a perfect performance with a 112.4 passer rating, a rushing and passing score, and completing 78-percent of his passes.
Needless to say, the Bears, nor those who follow them, aren't used to that kind of quarterbacking. For now, it's a little jarring. Guys like Bobby Massie, aren't surprised though. They've seen Trubisky take control of his team. The second offensive linemen in as many weeks to say as much of Chicago's man under center.
“Oh, hell yeah. Mitch will tell us, ‘Shut the f***up’ in the huddle. Mitch has got some balls. He’s going to be a good quarterback," said Massie.
To be fair to Massie, Trubisky is still a long ways away from being a star in his own right. Before Sunday, you had only seen his greatness in small flashes such as a game-winning drive against the Ravens with a jump pass, or a ridiculous fourth down conversion against the Lions. Sunday's Bengals masterpiece was the first step of actually putting together four pristine quarters. Now it'll be about stacking games like this together.
When that happens, watch out.
And the best part is that Trubisky, along with his fellow youthful counterparts and teammates, have the perfect mindset in that light. They understand there's still so much work to be done. That's no matter what happens down the stretch in these last three games. No matter what changes are made at Halas Hall in January, they'll be expected to grind away and improve, as they can.
Kendall Wright, who caught 10 passes on Sunday, summed it up best regarding his quarterback alone.
"That’s why you trade up and get a quarterback like that. He played light outs, and he’s really becoming leader and he’s really coming into his own, just being himself," said Wright.
In all fairness to Wright, Trubisky isn't the only one coming into his own. And that's music to the Bears' ears.
Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for The Rock River Times, an editor for Windy City Gridiron, and contributor to The Athletic Chicago. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.