Bears running back Jordan Howard

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Haugh: Beauty In Bears' Win In Eye Of Beholder

October 28, 2018 - 5:50 pm
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CHICAGO (670 The Score) -- On his way into Soldier Field on Sunday, Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky savored the attention as cameras clicked to capture his ode to Mike Ditka.

Three days before Halloween, Trubisky went to work wearing oversized dark sunglasses and a navy sweater vest with vintage white B-E-A-R-S block lettering across the front, the kind Ditka wore weekly back in the day. Only a cigar was missing from Da Coach’s get-up that Trubisky got a hand putting together from longtime Bears equipment manager Tony Medlin. On social media, the Bears proudly posted a video calling Trubisky "Mitchka." Da Quarterback. Whether you smiled or cringed at Trubisky’s wardrobe depended on your perspective.

"I wouldn’t call it a costume," Trubisky said after the Bears’ 24-10 victory over the Jets, their first win in four weeks. "I dressed up as a legend."

It was one of those days when beauty was in the eye of the beholder.

Optimists overstated the importance of beating a bad Jets team that was held to 207 total yards by a Bears defense that looked stingy again without elite pass rusher Khalil Mack, who missed his first NFL game in five seasons due to a sprained ankle. Those looking for reasons to believe in the Bears also found them in the progress of the running game, buoyed by Jordan Howard gaining 81 yards on 22 carries. The Jets came in committed not to let Trubisky beat them with his feet – they assigned a spy to the quarterback on several defenses – but had fewer answers for Howard.

Bernstein: In praise of the mundane win

Realists refused to ignore the nagging inaccuracy of Trubisky, whose fashion choice wasn’t his worst decision of the day. Trubisky’s numbers – 16 of 29 completions for 220 yards, two touchdowns and a passer rating of 102.7 – were skewed heavily by a 70-yard screen pass for a touchdown that was all coach Matt Nagy’s scheme and running back Tarik Cohen’s skill. Too often, again, Trubisky missed open targets. An offense that managed only 24 points against the Jets will need to improve before it enters the NFC North phase of the schedule.

Purists simply loved the way the Bears (4-3) protected the lead by pounding the run on a windy, 48-degree autumn day more suited for force than finesse, a fact reinforced after the Jets had drawn within 17-10 with 11 minutes left. On the ensuing drive, Howard carried four of eight plays and uncorked his longest gain of the season, a 24-yarder capped two snaps later on a two-yard touchdown run that he earned to score the insurance touchdown. For the Bears ever to be taken seriously as a contender in the NFC North, Nagy must possess the discipline to lean on Howard and the offensive line the way he did against the Jets.

The only negative about the running game was right guard Kyle Long going down with a foot injury that, given Long’s injury history, seemed foreboding. But Howard’s strong effort 48 hours before Tuesday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline also reinforced just how silly it would be for the Bears to trade him with the weather getting tougher in the coming weeks along with the competition.

"I thought this was like the true definition of persistence over resistance for him and our offensive line,’" Nagy said of Howard. "We just kept plugging away, but I’m really proud of him."

Nagy beamed almost as much about the growing chemistry between Trubisky and rookie receiver Anthony Miller, whose three catches for 37 yards came at key times. In the first half, Miller established himself as Trubisky’s favorite receiver to overthrow. But on third-and-goal from the 4-yard line with 7:13 left in the third quarter, Miller escaped the coverage of Jets cornerback Buster Skrine to find a spot in the back of the end zone that Trubisky sensed he would go. So that was precisely where Trubisky put the ball.

"That was something we talked about, and I threw it in a spot only Anthony could catch it," Trubisky said. "He made a great play."

To hear Nagy, Trubisky’s pass to Miller’s back shoulder was even greater.

"A special throw," Nagy said.

The degree of difficulty on Trubisky’s first touchdown pass, which went in the books as a 70-yarder to Cohen, decreased significantly. Sensing the Jets were bringing every possible pass rusher with man coverage behind the pressure – a "Zero Blitz," in football terms – Nagy called a screen pass and Cohen shrewdly took an inside release that freed him as the Jets took off after his quarterback. Trubisky later called it "a dream scenario" and stopped smiling long enough to loft the ball and watch Cohen cover 70 yards of open field into the end zone.

"It was the key play you’re looking for," said receiver Taylor Gabriel, who threw a key downfield block on it.

This was the kind of game the Bears needed after two straight losses. Playing without Mack and receiver Allen Robinson, as the Bears decided to protect the two investments in whom they have guaranteed $115 million, only increased the anxiety as well as the urgency. Yet it would be inaccurate to say electricity was in the air along the lakefront as a result of such uncertainty.

Quite the contrary: The 56,351 home fans struggled so much to stay engaged throughout the snoozer that even Jets coach Todd Bowles noted postgame, "The crowd wasn’t that loud." And the Bears’ fourth victory of the season certainly wasn’t that emphatic. But given that it came without two of the team’s best players and with as much substance as style, Nagy hardly found the fault others will focus on as the Bears have the chance to hit the midseason point at 5-3 with a win against the Bills next Sunday.

"We had guys who stepped up," said Nagy, sporting a George Halas jersey in the spirit of the throwback theme that players embraced.

If Nagy was going to choose a legendary Bears coach to honor, why did he choose Halas’ No. 7 jersey instead of Ditka’s No. 89?

"I’m not going to answer that," Nagy said, laughing. "But good question."

For the Bears, this was a solid response.​

David Haugh is the co-host of the Mully & Haugh Show on 670 The Score weekdays from 5-9 a.m. Listen to the show here. You can follow him on Twitter @DavidHaugh and email him at [email protected].​​​​​