CHICAGO — Offensive stats don’t come much uglier.
Three points. Four completed passes. Five first downs. Less than 11 minutes with the ball for the first three quarters.
And still a 17-3 win for the Chicago Bears.
Three starts into his NFL career, the best thing Mitchell Trubisky has going for him continues to be the Bears defense. For the second game in a row, it staked Trubisky and the offense to crucial points, with Eddie Jackson returning two turnovers deep in Bears territory for touchdowns.
By limiting Trubisky's time to look bad, the Bears defense is making the rookie quarterback look good.
“It’s just giving him time to grow as a player,” linebacker Leonard Floyd said. “We know we’ve got to come in and play at a high level anyway. It’s just giving him a lot of experience, getting him used to playing in the league. And he’s been doing better, game by game.”
“Better” might be overly optimistic.
The hype for Trubisky has been overheated since training camp, with Bears fans seeing him as the gridiron equivalent of the Chicago Cubs wunderkinds. While there’s no question he’s got talent — see his 70-yard deep ball to Tarik Cohen — he’s still a rookie.
A raw one, at that.
Yes, Trubisky had an impressive 101.8 QB rating Sunday. But that one pass to Cohen accounted for most of his 107 yards passing. He was sacked four times, and most were because he was admittedly conservative.
“I thought I played really poor,” Trubisky said.
“You didn’t score as an offense, the defense carries you. So you kind of feel salty that you couldn’t help out more than you did,” he said. “You always want to help out more, but you’ve got to enjoy the win.”
And therein is the bottom line.
The Bears are not going to be Super Bowl contenders this year. Even making the playoffs for the first time since 2010 would seem to be a stretch. Though Chicago is only two games behind NFC North leader Minnesota, the Bears are the division’s basement dwellers at 3-4.
But the division is up for grabs following Aaron Rodgers’ injury. If Chicago's defense can continue to provide Trubisky with both cover and a cushion, the Bears will give themselves a chance.
“We don’t necessarily think about it,” said cornerback Kyle Fuller, who was credited with one deflected pass and was about two yards shy of an interception. “We’re just going out there and trying to do our job and then (making Trubisky’s acclimation easier) comes with it.”
For five games now, Chicago has limited its opponents to 300 yards of offense or less. Impressive a stat as that is, it’s even more jaw-dropping when you consider the quarterbacks the Bears faced during the stretch.
Cam Newton, a former MVP. Joe Flacco, a Super Bowl MVP. Rodgers, both a two-time league MVP and Super Bowl MVP. Ben Roethlisberger, a two-time Super Bowl champ.
Of that illustrious group, Rodgers was the only one of the bunch the Bears couldn’t contain.
The Bears were on Newton from the get-go Sunday, with linebacker Danny Trevathan sacking him on the second play of the game. Newton would get the Panthers to the Chicago 24 later in the drive, only to see a backward pass to Curtis Samuel go badly awry. The ball popped out of Samuel’s hands, and players from both teams tried to jump on it. As it rolled close to the sideline, Jackson scooped it up at the 25 and took it the length of the field.
On Carolina’s first possession of the second quarter, Jackson made another heads-up play, snagging a deflected pass intended for Kelvin Benjamin. He eluded left tackle Matt Kalil, Newton and running back Christian McCaffrey on his way to the end zone, and the 76-yard return gave Chicago a 14-0 lead.
The Bears have six takeaways in the last two weeks, and nine for the season.
“We’re just growing,” said Jackson, the first defensive player in NFL history with two TD returns of 75 yards or longer. “We’re still a young defense — a lot of new guys, a lot of new faces — so we still just got to keep getting comfortable.
Jackson then quoted Bears running back Benny Cunningham while explaining a team philosophy.
“Benny had a saying: 'Just laying one brick at a time.' "
That wall the Bears are building serves two purposes: Keeping opponents at bay and giving Trubisky safe haven so he has time to grow.
Nancy Armour, USA Today Sports