It's amusing to think about in hindsight, but could you imagine if the Bears had not drafted Mitchell Trubisky with the No. 2 overall selection last April? Or, had they not taken a quarterback at all that high, and instead went with a safety such as Jamal Adams?
This organization would've been mercilessly saddled with the ineffective Mike Glennon for a 16 games, and general manager Ryan Pace would've assuredly been fired along with former head coach John Fox seeing as he had nothing to lean on. The Bears would have no direction in sight at the close of the 2017 season. Matt Nagy certainly wouldn't be head coach, as he's in Chicago to work with Trubisky. Overall, they'd be seeking to enter the onslaught of quarterback-mania for the 2018 Draft, hoping their straw isn't the shortest draw.
What a bleak alternate reality for Halas Hall. Thankfully, for the Bears' sake, they have Trubisky. They have someone to not only sell on an increasingly frustrated fan-base, but a team looking for a leader to believe in. By all accounts so far, that man is the young Trubisky, a man ready to take the Bears back to relevance.
Evaluating Trubisky will be tricky over time. The Bears under Nagy's offense will be more creative and better suited to make use of Trubisky's strengths, but that doesn't mean he still won't go through his rough patches as he matures. Struggles he went through intermittently throughout his rookie year. It's important in this way, for the Bears to never get too high or too low on his performances until he demonstrates consistency.
Don't say that to outsiders looking in. The bubble outside of the Bears operates differently in reactions, particularly at quarterback in Chicago. As it always has.
This is why we’ll jump through Trubisky's 12 rookie starts to demonstrate how this reactionary assessing process unfolded after each game. And how it'll evolve, as well as needs to evolve in the future.
Vs. Vikings, "Monday Night Football" October 9th, 2017
For a rookie against the league's eventual best defense in Minnesota, Trubisky played reasonably well in front of a primetime audience in his first NFL start. 12-25 for 128 yards and a tipped touchdown pass isn't anything to write home about. Nor is a pick thrown to All-Pro Harrison Smith in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter that sealed the Bears' fate of defeat 20-17.
.@HarriSmith22 intercepts Trubisky!— NFL (@NFL) October 10, 2017
HUGE INT for the @Vikings. #SKOL #MINvsCHI pic.twitter.com/Iqwo1atMQQ
How Trubisky played wasn't the sentiment gleaned from his debut. It was hope.
Hope that inspired the Bears.
Hope that said the Bears finally had a franchise quarterback.
This was the Trubisky honeymoon phase, and no one was going to take the electric moment away.
We begin the climb from the plateau.
At Ravens October 15th, 2017
Trubisky only attempted 16 passes in his first ever professional road game at Baltimore. He only completed eight of them. You'd have thought he had diced the Ravens up without looking at the box score.
In a thrilling 27-24 overtime victory where the Bears coughed up a late two-score lead, Trubisky flashed the ability Chicago had originally envisioned when drafting him. A loft of a touchdown pass on a third and long broken play to Dion Sims. A jump pass on another third and long broken play to Kendall Wright in overtime to set up Connor Barth for the game-winning kick.
Here Trubisky was the "savior", the franchise, after but two starts.
The chosen one because of a few plays.
From a plateau to steadily gaining up the mountain.
Vs. Panthers October 22nd, 2017
How can he only throw seven times?
No, seriously, how can you have Trubisky your No. 2 overall pick, only throw seven times in a 60-minute 2017 NFL game?
Fox and his now infamous conservative, mindset that's how.
Trubisky never had a chance to make an impact against Carolina, as once Eddie Jackson scored two defensive touchdowns, there was no way Fox was going to put the ball in his rookie quarterback's hands more than he needed to (or less). A coach sitting on a lead from the second quarter on, and somehow it worked out in a 17-3 Bears' win.
This time, the story was about Trubisky joining an exclusive club of passers to only complete four passes and win. About a quarterback hindered by his coach's mindset.
A slight dip down the mountain we go.
At Saints October 29th, 2017
The Saints were the first true complete team Trubisky had played all year (Minnesota had not been rolling in his initial start). The concern was how he would keep the Bears in a game against the high-powered Saints and Drew Brees. Going into the bye, a win against New Orleans - the team everyone has continually insisted Pace is modeling his Bears after - would've been a monumental boost.
If not for an incomprehensibly horrendous call on a Zach Miller reception in the end zone, the story might have ended differently for Trubisky in the SuperDome. 14-32 for 164 yards, one score, and one 46-yard big rush underscore what he did to keep the Bears in the game on the road against a Super Bowl contender. Because of Trubisky (and timely turnovers by the defense late), Chicago had a chance until the end. Right before a game-ending interception thrown to likely Defensive Rookie Of The Year Marshon Lattimore.
On this occasion, Trubisky wasn't enough to lift the Bears over the Saints.
To this point, the word "bust" hadn't been uttered yet in regards to Trubisky, but it was coming. It was merely stalling like the Bears' offense.
Further down the mountain we fall.
Vs. Packers November 12th, 2017
A bye week, meaning an extra week to prepare for his first start against the Bears' biggest rival in the Packers. Green Bay without Aaron Rodgers, a perennial thorn in Chicago's side. The first time in decades, the Bears would possess the quarterback advantage from a glance. As guaranteed of a Bears win as there should be.
What, you mean to say they still lost to Brett Hundley and company? Trubisky, he of his 297 yards and a score couldn't muster up more than 16 points against a porous Packers defense? Hmm, time to consider Pace's investment in the regressing 23-year-old. Plays like this should’ve happened regularly.
Trubisky certainly wasn't enough to turn the tide against the Bears' Goliath, now was he?
Back to the plateau.
Vs. Lions November 19th, 2017
You want to talk about plays that will be shown in videos in the future when playing back a great player's career? That was "Fourth and Mitch" against the Lions at Soldier Field.
Forget the poorly taken snap that led to a D.J. Hayden in an eventual 27-24 loss. Forget the listless third quarter as a whole for the Bears' offensively (a common season theme). Forget being stifled by a 27th ranked Detroit defense. This was Trubisky putting his team on his back in the cluch (to only be let down by Barth).
That's what a superstar does. The Mitch-a-palooza is back on.
Time to plant that flag back on the summit.
At Eagles November 27th, 2017
On the road in Philadelphia, Trubisky should've been able to play well against the NFL's best team. The Eagles, despite being stocked at every position, presented a challenge for Trubisky, but nothing insurmountable
17-33 and 147 yards along with two interceptions is inexcusably inaccurate against the waves the Eagles brought onto Trubisky defensively. If he can't handle the pressure of playing with an inferior team against a complete, ferocious squad on the road, perhaps he's not cut out for this professional football thing.
Crash back down to the bottom of the mountain.
Vs. 49ers December 3rd, 2017
It is absolutely unreal that the 49ers were able to acquire Jimmy Garoppolo for a second-round pick, meanwhile the Bears didn't even have to trade the farm to draft Trubisky.
That makes Garoppolo cutting the Bears apart effortlessly, even while not leading a touchdown drive in this game, that much more egregiously mismanaged from Chicago's perspective. Never mind Garoppolo being an established pro already for a few seasons under the Patriots. How the Bears didn't acquire him knowing he'd be better than Trubisky now makes it fitting that he beat them in a 15-14 loss.
Garoppolo-mania should've been the real moniker at Soldier Field.
A blizzard is rolling in as the climb back up is brought to a halt.
At Bengals December 10th, 2017
Sure, sure, it's the Bengals. They've all but given up on Marvin Lewis (who is inexplicably still head coach). Come on: Trubisky orchestrated a masterpiece in Cincinnati, a total performance of his career because it was essentially error-free and full of back-breaking big plays.
From accuracy in completing more than 70-percent of his passes, to touch on beautiful downfield throws because of anticipation, Trubisky unveiled the full arsenal against a helpless Bengals defense. 271 yards and a passing and rushing score each don't tell the entire story of this game. The only story, though, was Trubisky.
A glimpse of what Trubisky could be down the line, as he finally figured out playing NFL quarterback. The Super Bowl is on the way within the next few years.
A mysterious express lane has appeared to take us all the way back to the summit.
Vs. Lions December 16, 2017
Throw three interceptions on the road in front of a national audience, you're not going to receive the casual credit your coaches and teammates may think you deserve.
Mistimed, misfired throws. Poor decisions in the red zone. These are the types of plays that sink an offense, especially on the road. All the worse against a division rival in the Lions when you're seeking any bit of optimistic confidence moving forward. A 20-10 loss with the season over isn't shocking, but is disappointing nonetheless.
Have Trubisky and the Bears come this far, after his biggest professional game, and then see him unnecessarily force the issue. This quarterback will evidently never learn, try as he might. The Bears need to keep a tighter leash. It's time to consider that he may indeed be a bust.
A sudden avalanche sends the party back down to the base.
Vs. Cleveland December 24th, 2017
The difference between the hapless Browns and Bears on a snowy Christmas Eve was Trubisky. Comparable roster pieces in some areas aside, one team had the better and more poised quarterback, and that was the Bears.
All the more emblematic was that this victory for Trubisky came against his hometown Browns. That made it more appropriate he be mic'd up. That made the moment on a holiday for the young quarterback special, as he began his own Christmas tradition for the Bears and their faithful.
The Browns and 2017 No. 1 overall pick Myles Garrett, who had one sack, never had a chance, and surely rue not taking the hometown kid now.
It's been steadily slow, but we've arrived at the plateau once more.
At Vikings December 31st, 2017
One would believe that after already seeing the Vikings in his debut, Trubisky would've come far enough to progress significantly on his second crack against Minnesota, this time on the road.
Instead, the Bears and Trubisky couldn't punch in two late red zone attempts to make a surprisingly competitive 23-10 game a nail-biter. Trubisky in his own right, didn’t display enough pocket presence or poise to help the Bears pull out the massive upset against the heavily-favored Vikings. His rookie year ends at a stand-still.
We settle at the plateau for the time being.
The crucial message to take from these week-by-week reactions to Trubisky’s starts is that quarterback development is never linear. That applies from the day to day, week to week, and year to year. This isn’t a simplistic developmental track with football’s most complex position.
One week a guy like Trubisky will put on a masterclass performance. The next he’ll look average or worse. After looking mostly average his rookie season, Trubisky may indeed light it up next year. And then suffer a slight dip the following year in 2019 after that.
That is perfectly fine. It’s about who Trubisky settles into after a few seasons.
Small sample sizes be damned. It’s on the Nagy-Bears to stay calm, keep Trubisky level-headed, and maintain the trajectory constantly pointing upward no matter the early dips and rising results. Constantly place him in position to succeed in these circumstances, and soon the dips in play won’t happen as often. That’s how they’ll squeeze the best out of the future of the franchise.
Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for The Rock River Times, an editor for Windy City Gridiron, and is a contributor to The Athletic Chicago. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.