Dan Wiederer: Yes, the Bears have other roster needs to address. But without game-changing quarterback play, they’re going nowhere — again.

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It was the throw everyone was going to be talking about, the bad miss in a big moment that seemed ready to torpedo a superb season. It was the throw that had seemingly purchased a home in Kansas City, Mo., and laid down roots, preparing to stalk Patrick Mahomes for the next seven months at minimum, through an offseason of nonstop chatter about missed opportunities and legacy-defining moments and immeasurable heartbreak.

Super Bowl LIV. Fourth quarter. Chiefs down 10 to the 49ers with a little more than 12 minutes to play.

Mahomes and his offense needed a big drive, needed points, needed some kind of spark. But an encouraging 52-yard march abruptly ended on third-and-6 when Mahomes’ over-the-middle pass was a foot and a half behind receiver Tyreek Hill.

The ball hit Hill’s right palm and ricocheted up. Safety Tarvarius Moore dived under it. It was a costly misfire, Mahomes’ second interception in as many possessions. That marked only the fourth time in 36 career starts, including postseason, he had thrown multiple picks in one game.

In the Super Bowl no less.

That was the throw everyone was going to be talking about, picking apart, microanalyzing. Until it no longer mattered.

It no longer mattered because 70 minutes later, Mahomes was on a stage with Andy Reid and Roger Goodell, with Clark and Norma Hunt collecting the Lombardi Trophy. And Mahomes was on that stage because in the final 8 minutes of the NFL’s 100th season, the Chiefs had scored 21 points and turned a 10-point deficit into a double-digit Super Bowl win. And the Chiefs scored those 21 points because Mahomes lit the wick with his playmaking prowess.

You know the throw that mattered more than that second interception? Of course you do. It played on a loop on social media and NFL Network and ESPN and Fox Sports for much of February.

It was the third-and-15 desperation shot that Mahomes turned into a 44-yard gain. He did so with admirable pocket poise and his rocket-launcher right arm. With the Chiefs’ Super Bowl hopes hanging on the edge of a cliff by a fingernail, Mahomes stood strong under pressure, trusted his receiver and his arm strength and heaved the ball 56 yards in the air as DeForest Buckner was hitting him. Hill ran under it.

It was the Chiefs’ longest gain of the night and arguably the biggest play in franchise history. It led to a touchdown that pulled them within three points. On the next drive, Mahomes feathered a 38-yard completion up the right sideline to Sammy Watkins that helped set up the go-ahead touchdown — a Mahomes pass to Travis Kelce.

Big moments. Huge plays. Game-changing. Result-altering. Legacy-defining.

More evidence of how valuable top-tier quarterback play is.

This is the reminder for a long offseason in Chicago that the Bears and their antsy fan base must keep their eyes on the ball. Over the next two months, another cycle of offseason roster replenishing will progress. Starting this week at the scouting combine in Indianapolis, there will be a heightened focus on college prospects plus the early whispers of free-agency rumors.

General manager Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy will put their heads together to formulate plans. Without question, the Bears will direct their focus on an offense that finished 29th in the league in yards per game (298.6) and 26th in offensive touchdowns (28). Increased stability on the offensive line would help. Finding a reliable tight end or two is a must. Uncovering ways to unlock the running game will be a top priority. All of this matters.

But make no mistake. The Bears’ path to becoming a championship contender again hinges on improved quarterback play. They need game-changing, result-altering contributions from the most important position.

Consistently. With regularity.

Mitch Trubisky, Pace has told us, is the undisputed starter heading into 2020 with another chance to revive his career and prove he can be the long-term answer. But the Bears will seek a more protective insurance plan as well.

And whoever winds up taking the bulk of the snaps next season must deliver on the unrelenting demand to make plays when plays are there to be made.


It was the throw no one was talking about. Ever. Until Nagy brought it up on New Year’s Eve.

The Bears coach and offensive architect was sitting inside the PNC Center at Halas Hall alongside Pace for their season-ending news conference.

He had been asked about his biggest general concerns for the Bears offense and had acknowledged the struggle to formulate an identity. Then Nagy rewound 14 weeks to a seemingly routine play from the second half of one of the Bears’ most convincing wins.

Nagy still seemed at least a tad irked at how a seemingly trivial third-quarter drive ended that night against the Redskins — with a third-down decision by Trubisky that lacked either aggressiveness or awareness and left the Bears with a 44-yard field-goal attempt. Positive, right? A chance to add points to the board and increase the lead to 28.

But Nagy wanted more. He wanted the kill shot. He had hoped Trubisky had a better understanding of the touchdown-to-checkdown mentality they had emphasized for the previous five months.

“We had a scenario there where we could get a nice big lead on those guys,” Nagy said three months later. “And we made a decision … to check the ball down. I can say this to you because (Trubisky) knows this. And it’s for you all to understand the growth of him understanding how we think in that moment — when we have a nice big lead to get to a situation to end the game. And we didn’t (do so) in that scenario.”

The film showed what Nagy was talking about. On a well-designed third-and-12 play, receiver Anthony Miller ran a wheel route out of the slot, looping underneath and around Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel and breaking wide open up the left sideline. With little effort, it could have been a 26-yard touchdown pass. Should have been.

Instead, Trubisky didn’t let it develop. He took the shotgun snap, made one read and instinctively settled for a quick-hitter to tight end Trey Burton that never had a chance at moving the chains. No gain.

Compounding the mistake, kicker Eddy Pineiro missed the subsequent 44-yard field goal. The Redskins hung around for a while longer, requiring the Bears to use more effort than they should have needed to seal the win.

This was just one example of many that gnawed at Nagy through a turbulent season in which Trubisky and the offense left too many big-play opportunities unfulfilled.

Too many missed throws. Too many missed reads. Far too much left on the table.


It was a throw that gave Chicago a refreshing adrenaline surge, one of the most important plays of the Bears’ most impressive win.

In the closing seconds of the first half of a Week 14 dismantling of the Cowboys, Trubisky wouldn’t let the Bears settle for a field goal. On third-and-goal from the 8 with 14 seconds left, he trusted his eyes, feet and arm, squeezing a touchdown dart into tight coverage and right into Robinson’s chest.

Instead of a satisfactory 13-7 halftime lead, the Bears were in full control with a 17-7 advantage. The energy surge in Soldier Field was palpable — thanks in big part to one bold, precise throw.

Ah, yes. Clear evidence. It’s in there for the Bears quarterback.

Of course it is.

Trubisky was the No. 2 pick in the draft three years ago. He has made 42 NFL starts, including the playoffs. The Bears have won 23 of those games.

That’s why Trubisky’s biggest supporters — including the most important ones at Halas Hall — are clinging to hope. They’ve seen enough flashes to feel encouraged.

That timely touchdown pass to Robinson was part of a night in which Trubisky shredded the Cowboys defense with his arm and legs, accounting for 307 yards and four touchdowns. That was part of a monthlong surge in which the Bears won four times in five games in big part because their quarterback made plays.

Trubisky made plays that turned punts into first downs, first downs into field goals, field goals into touchdowns.

His nifty 23-yard touchdown run against the Cowboys was the exclamation point on his most uplifting stretch of 2019.

Four weeks earlier, a brilliant 24-yard touchdown pass to Gabriel sparked a 20-13 win over the Lions. On Thanksgiving, against those same Lions, Trubisky sparked a late game-winning touchdown drive with clutch third-down completions to Miller for 35 and 32 yards.

It’s in there.

Had Trubisky missed those fourth-quarter throws to Miller at Ford Field — just a touch late or a tad overthrown or a bit too uncertain to pull the trigger — one of the Bears’ most invigorating wins could have been one of their most dispiriting losses. That’s how thin the line frequently is in the NFL, where quarterbacks often have four or five defining plays each game. And the result of those plays changes the mood of an entire franchise and an entire city for the next six days.

The quarterbacks who consistently deliver on those momentum-turning opportunities are the ones who produce the most exhilarating successes. But those pivotal plays have to be made consistently. With regularity. It can’t just be every so often.

In late December, Nagy had been through it all over and over and over again. He had chronicled the Bears’ offensive frustrations from every angle. The constipated running game. The shoddy blocking. The untimely drops. The disappearance of the tight end.

But Nagy was asked if — even with all of that — wins and losses often come down to a quarterback’s ability to make plays when plays are there to be made.

“There’s a realness to that,” he said.

For the Bears right now, it’s as real as it gets.

This week’s scouting combine will have analysts zeroing in on the tight end class and who might fit best in Nagy’s system. Free agency will bring intrigue about how the Bears can add speed to the offense and create more depth on the offensive line.

But their efforts to turn a maddening 100th season into a rousing turnaround in Year 101 will depend on whether their quarterback can play at a high level.

Consistently. With regularity.

Don’t forget, the team that recently held a raucous championship parade down the streets of its euphoric city was the one that turned double-digit deficits into double-digit wins in all three of its playoff wins. The Chiefs did so because they trusted their quarterback to be everything they believe he is. And he delivered over and over again.

That’s still what this is all about. It would be naive to believe otherwise. The Bears must set their offseason course accordingly.


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