Mitchell Trubisky threw three touchdown passes and ran for another as the Chicago Bears won their third straight game by defeating the visiting Dallas Cowboys 31-24 on Thursday at Soldier Field.
Allen Robinson II caught two of Trubisky's touchdown passes in the first half. Anthony Miller snagged the other, and Trubisky ran for his touchdown from 23 yards out.
The Cowboys offense could get nothing going all night save for running back Ezekiel Elliott, who amassed 93 scrimmage yards and two touchdowns.
Chicago moved to 7-6 with the win and sits 1.5 games behind the Minnesota Vikings for the second NFC wild-card spot. The Bears were victorious despite linebacker Roquan Smith (pectoral) and wideout Javon Wims (knee) leaving the game with injuries.
The 6-7 Cowboys lost their third straight game but still lead the NFC East by a half-game over the 5-7 Philadelphia Eagles, who host the New York Giants on Monday.
Cowboys QB Dak Prescott: 27-of-49, 334 passing yards and 1 TD
Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott: 19 carries, 81 rushing yards and 2 TD; 2 receptions, 12 receiving yards
Cowboys WR Amari Cooper: 6 receptions, 83 receiving yards and 1 TD
Bears QB Mitchell Trubisky: 23-of-31, 244 passing yards, 3 TD and 1 INT; 9 carries, 64 rushing yards and 1 TD
Bears RB David Montgomery: 20 carries and 86 rushing yards
Bears WR Allen Robinson II: 5 receptions, 48 receiving yards and 2 TD
Mitchell Trubisky Finding His Groove at the Right Time
The first nine games of the year did not go well for third-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, who tossed just nine touchdown passes and threw for only 5.6 yards per pass attempt.
He wasn't running the ball nearly as much as last year, and the Bears managed to score 20 or more points just three times.
But Trubisky is on a roll over his past three games, and that's helped the 7-6 Bears put themselves in position to make a late charge at the postseason.
The quarterback tossed two picks against the New York Giants in Week 11, but he threw for one touchdown and ran for another while amassing a season-high 278 passing yards. The Bears won 19-14.
Trubisky followed that effort by completing 76.3 percent of his passes for a new season high of 338 yards, three touchdowns and one interception in a 24-20 win over the Detroit Lions. Nine of his completions went to Anthony Miller for 140 yards.
He saved his best for last in prime time on Thursday night en route to accounting for four touchdowns (three passing, one running) and guiding the Bears to a relatively easy win over a talented Cowboys team.
Granted, Dallas is in the midst of a major slump and playing well below its potential and expectations (more below), but credit goes to the oft-criticized Trubisky for his dominant performance.
There are three positive takeaways for him.
First, he did an excellent job threading the needle on a few throws, including this one to No. 1 wideout Allen Robinson II:
It was a clutch throw given the circumstances: The Bears faced 3rd-and-goal up 10-7, and the touchdown put the Bears up two scores.
That result was set up by another great throw to Miller:
Second, Trubisky incorporated some new faces into the pass-catching core, including tight end J.P. Holtz. Normally known and used for his blocking, Holtz became a stout receiving tight end Thursday to the tune of three receptions for 56 yards. He also found rookie Jesper Horsted (third career game) for four receptions and 36 yards and connected with seven pass-catchers overall on the night.
Third, Trubisky showed off the wheels that appeared during his second season, in which he rushed for 421 yards. The ex-UNC star had gained just 80 yards entering the evening, but he nearly doubled that total with 64 more.
His results led to ESPN Stats & Info giving some well-deserved credit:
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
Mitchell Trubisky joins Drew Brees & Josh Allen as the only QB's to have multiple games with 3+ Pass TDs & 1+ Rush TD in a game in the last 2 seasons. According to @NextGenStats, Trubisky has 5 rushes where he reached a max speed of 15 MPH tonight (5 such rushes in Weeks 1-11) https://t.co/3QvTjzWLz6
David Haugh of Chicago Sports Radio 670 The Score noted how Trubisky's running abilities completely change the dynamic:
Former Bears linebacker Lance Briggs was a fan of what he saw:
And Chris Emma of 670 The Score tweeted that watching Trubisky now versus three weeks ago is night and day.
Trubisky has been exceptional over the last three weeks, but the Giants, Lions and Cowboys are all bottom-half NFL defenses, per Football Outsiders' DVOA. He'll get some tough tests against the 9-3 Green Bay Packers, 8-4 Kansas City Chiefs and 8-4 Minnesota Vikings to close the season, but Trubisky is riding a huge wave of momentum right now.
Coaching, Defending and Kicking Doom Dallas Again
A team featuring one of the NFL's best skill-position trios in the game (Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott and Amari Cooper) and a trio of studs on defense (linebackers Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith and edge-rusher DeMarcus Lawrence) is just 6-7 through 13 games.
That's hard to fathom, especially considering that Dallas followed up last year's NFC East-winning campaign with a 3-0 start this season.
However, Dallas has won as many games in its last 10 matchups at it did in its first three.
The three primary culprits are coaching, defending and kicking (in that order), but even the high-powered offense struggled Thursday too.
First, the coaching. Jason Garrett has amassed a respectable 83-66 record since taking over for Wade Phillips in 2010, but his efforts have received much criticism of late.
NFL analyst Warren Sharp pointed out a few concerns with the Cowboys' play-calling and lack of halftime adjustments:
Warren Sharp @SharpFootball
Can Garrett make halftime adjustments? No. The last 5 yrs Dallas has won just 4 games they trailed at halftime. That ranks 30th in halftime deficits turned to wins (only the Browns & Lions have less). They are 1 of 5 teams who have been unable to overcome a deficit of >7 pts.
Marcus Mosher of Locked on Cowboys wondered why Garrett wasn't fired last year:
And Jonah Tuls of the Draft Network pointed out how unprepared the team looked in defeat:
Dallas is clearly not playing up to its potential, but it's not all the coaching staff's fault. Missed tackles were the norm on Thursday as they have been all year, to the point where it felt like the Bears jerseys were covered in grease.
Exhibit A is Cordarrelle Patterson taking a pass at the line of scrimmage and somehow evading seven defenders in his vicinity to inexplicably gain 33 yards:
Exhibit B is Anthony Miller slicing through three defenders who barely got a hand on him:
And Exhibit C is this read-option from Trubisky, where his jukes on the back end led him into the end zone:
The Cowboys were missing Vander Esch, who is second on the team with 72 tackles despite playing just nine games. But Dallas entered Thursday ranked 20th in defensive efficiency, per Football Outsiders, and it's clear the team's problems run deeper than one player's absence.
The patterns of questionable coaching and missed tackling continued on Thursday, but so did erratic kicking.
Brett Maher entered the evening having made just nine of his last 14 field goals and 19-of-28 overall. He's been a consistent and clutch kicker in the past, but that has not been the case this year. That showed in the first half when a 42-yard try sailed wide right. With a make, Dallas would have tied the game at 10.
Now, Maher is now 11-of-21 on field goals from 30 or more yards. He also kicked the ball out of bounds after Dallas cut the lead to 24-14, giving the Bears the ball on their own 40-yard line.
Dallas is 6-7 and somehow on top of the NFC East with the 5-7 Philadelphia Eagles, 3-9 Washington Redskins and 2-10 New York Giants all trailing.
The Cowboys still have the upper hand as far as making playoffs are concerned by virtue of their half-game edge (and current head-to-head tiebreaker) over the Eagles, but at this point, a postseason berth would come by virtue of being in a terrible division. A Wild Card Round win at home would be their ceiling.
Ultimately, the Cowboys have regressed year over year, and now we're left to wonder what (if any) changes owner and general manager Jerry Jones will make.
Both teams will play on Sunday, Dec. 15. The Cowboys will host the Los Angeles Rams at AT&T Stadium at 4:25 p.m. ET. The Bears will visit the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field at 1 p.m. ET.