CHICAGO (670 The Score) -- In the middle of Soldier Field after his team beat the Cowboys, 31-24, on Thursday, running back Tarik Cohen uncorked a standing backflip and stuck the landing.
It was a fitting end to a night the Bears turned their football world upside-down.
A previously underachieving team overwhelmed the Cowboys with easily its best performance of the season. A group once headed nowhere believed it found some direction after its third straight victory.
"Everybody’s seeing what type of people we have on this football team," Bears coach Matt Nagy said. "No one flinched."
Next week, defensive end Akiem Hicks returns from injury for the Packers game on Dec. 15. On Thursday, the Bears welcomed hope back to Chicago just when we started to think it was out for the year.
Computers will crunch the numbers to say the Bears only increased their playoff chances to around five percent, so avoid getting too caught up in the moment. Football romantics will say there's no way to measure their optimism after this one. This was the total package everyone has been waiting to see from the Bears since, well, almost a year ago in the same building when they similarly dominated the Rams. This was the 2019 version of the 2018 Bears, at last, on a night quarterback Mitch Trubisky and defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano proved ready for primetime. This was fun to watch, finally, for a fan base that had endured so much agony watching one of the NFL’s biggest disappointments.
"If we don’t win, none of those percentages matter," Nagy said.
For a change, the Bears again resembled a team that knows how to win.
A 17-play, 75-yard opening drive that ate up 8:57 gave the Cowboys an early 7-0 lead and the Bears defense ample reason to worry. But the Bears adjusted, becoming more physical against the run and less tentative against the pass. Despite losing its fourth starter – linebacker Roquan Smith left with a pectoral injury after the first series – Pagano’s defense persevered. Linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis, known best this season as the linebacker who committed a dumb running-into-the-punter penalty against the Raiders, filled in capably. Sidekick Nick Kwiatkoski flew around with familiar abandon. And the pass rush pressured Dak Prescott just enough to disrupt the rhythm of the NFL’s most prolific passer in 2019.
Prescott often appeared confused by the Bears, whether it was both linebackers faking blitz before eight dropped or the secondary disguising coverages. Cornerback Kevin Toliver, who had played only three defensive snaps all season, started in place of the injured Prince Amukamara, but Prescott never quite hit the bullseye on Toliver’s back until a perfectly thrown 19-yard touchdown pass with 4:29 left in garbage time.
Meanwhile, Trubisky outplayed Prescott as the Bears offense responded with a more balanced approach than in past games and benefited from using the quarterback as a runner more than any game this season. That’s a game-changer for the Bears and Trubisky. Freeing Trubisky to use his feet and athleticism changes so much about his execution as a quarterback – and potentially his evaluation by Bears coaches and executives. He entered with 80 rushing yards on the season but finished with 10 carries for 63 yards against the Cowboys.
"It was very evident that he used (his legs) as a weapon," Nagy said. "When he uses his legs like that, he becomes a running back."
Twice on the first drive, for example, Trubisky scrambled for first downs. Like Jeff Driskel of the Lions and Josh Allen of the Bills had done successfully against the Cowboys defense in the past month, Trubisky proved he had done his homework by being so quick to tuck the ball and run. Trubisky’s willingness to use his feet early slowed down the Cowboys' pass rush just enough to neutralize, complementing what was Nagy’s smartest play-calling combination in weeks. The clearest example in the first half came on a 30-yard screen to tight end J.P. Holtz, who sold the play well before rambling into the open field. But Trubisky’s signature play from this came on a 23-yard designed run for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter that included a key block from left tackle Charles Leno Jr. and ended any Cowboys’ thought of a comeback.
"I thought I ran smart," Trubisky said.
Overall, Trubisky took a significant step forward with his arm too, this time against a worthier foe than the Lions and Giants were. This time, Trubisky earned the respect that eluded him after those bottom-feeding games by completing 23 of 31 passes for 244 yards and three touchdowns. Trubisky became the first quarterback in NFL history to complete 70 percent of his passes on 30 or more attempts, throw three or more touchdowns and rush for 50 or more yards in a game, according to Stats, Inc.
The only head-scratching moment against the Cowboys came on a red-zone interception in the first quarter when Trubisky threw to nobody obvious. Cowboys cornerback Jourdan Lewis dragged both feet at the 1-yard line like a skilled wide receiver, thwarting what had been a promising opening drive for the Bears offense. After Trubisky’s phantom throw that produced the Cowboys’ first takeaway in five games, Fox Sports analyst Troy Aikman spoke for everyone watching.
"I don’t know what Trubisky saw on that pass attempt to Anthony Miller," Aikman said.
But the list of bad Trubisky decisions was as short as it has been all season.
He threw both short touchdown passes to Allen Robinson in the first half with conviction, not allowing the early interception to rattle his confidence like it might have earlier this season. He exhibited accuracy so often missing, such as when he threaded the needle to Anthony Miller between two defenders for a 21-yard gain. He took what the Cowboys defense gave him and exploited mismatches on the edge, whether it was Cohen on a swing pass or Anthony Miller on a run-pass option that Miller’s explosiveness turned into a 14-yard touchdown for a commanding 24-7 lead.
That score came on an opening 11-play, 84-yard drive to start the second half that served as a statement and included Cordarrelle Patterson’s first reception in a month. Patterson’s 33-yard catch on third-and-long couldn’t have come at a better time for a Bears offense trying to put its foot on the Cowboys’ throat.
This is how much it was the Bears’ night: They even had the edge at kicker. Eddy Pineiro nailed a 36-yard field goal while counterpart Brett Maher missed his 10th field-goal attempt of 2019, making you wonder if Cowboys owner Jerry Jones would make Maher take an Uber home to Texas. The Cowboys tried out three kickers last week, and after missing a makeable 42-yarder in ideal weather, Maher faces job insecurity only coach Jason Garrett can relate to in Dallas.
As dysfunctional as the 6-7 Cowboys are, the playoffs remain a realistic goal for Garrett’s team given the mediocrity of the NFC East. The Bears have no such luxury in a tougher NFC North.
But after an inspired effort on national television against America’s team, they still have a chance, however slim. And that's relevance worth reveling in for the Bears.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.