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It's Not Too Late: Mitchell Trubisky Can Rewrite Career After Busting in Chicago

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystAugust 22, 2021

Buffalo Bills quarterback Mitchell Trubisky (10) rushes with the ball against the Chicago Bears during the first half of a preseason NFL football game, Saturday, Aug. 21, 2021, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski)
Kamil Krzaczynski/Associated Press

If you mention the name Mitchell Trubisky in the greater Chicago metropolitan area, the looks you receive will be… unpleasant. You'll get some of this. And a few of these. And maybe even this.

After four so-so years in Chicago, Trubisky was allowed to leave in free agency, eventually signing a one-year, $2.5 million deal to back up Josh Allen in Buffalo. On Saturday, Trubisky and the Bills traveled to Soldier Field, and in leading a beatdown of his old team Trubisky sent a message to his legion of detractors.

While he may not be a starting quarterback in 2021, that doesn't mean he won't be again.

With Allen ensconced in bubble wrap until Sept. 12 after inking a six-year, $258 million contract extension a couple of weeks ago, it was Trubisky who drew the start against the Bears Saturday.

He and the Bills offense didn't waste any time getting into a rhythm, peeling off a 10-play, 72-yard drive that culminated in a Devin Singletary touchdown.

After a punt by the Bears, Buffalo drove the length of the field again—this time on am 11-play, 64-yard march that ended with Trubisky finding Jake Kumerow from four yards out.

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Two drives, two touchdowns. They didn't come with the Bears running exotic blitzes and whatnot, but they did come with quite a few of Chicago's starters out there. As ESPN Stats and Info pointed out, that first quarter efficiency was something that long eluded Trubisky in Chicago.

ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo

Mitchell Trubisky led the Bills to 13 points in the first quarter today. In 50 career starts for the Bears, Trubisky led Chicago to 13 points in the first quarter just twice. https://t.co/6QBDO7zS7w

After a Chicago fumble, Trubisky drove the Bills 53 yards for another TD. That was followed by another Bears punt and another Bills TD.

Four drives. Four trips to the end zone.

By the time his day was over, Trubisky had carved up Chicago for 34 points on seven series while completing 20 of 28 passes for 221 yards and a passer rating of 106.4. Per ESPN's Jeff Dickerson, Trubisky admitted to some butterflies when he first found out he would be starting against his old team. But those quickly faded.

"I was excited. I stopped being anxious like three or four days ago and I just felt really comfortable with the game plan, what all we were doing out there," Trubisky said. "My teammates had my back all week. ... I was definitely more excited than anything out here. I just felt really comfortable."

Per James McCoy of the Buffalo News, the performance drew praise from head coach Sean McDermott.

“He came out ready to play. It’s hard to do what he did, whether preseason or regular season, soon after leaving here. He’s a great person and a great addition to our team. He’s out to improve every day and we’re happy to have him and his family in Buffalo. Brandon (Beane) and his staff did a great job with Mitch and getting him to Buffalo. It takes two. You gotta want to be somewhere and Mitch wanted to be in Buffalo as he has said numerous times. It says a lot about who he is as a person and what he’s looking for and how he wants to go about his business. … He went out there and executed. He did his 1/11th. Mitch really embraces his role. He’s not an 'I' guy. He’s a team guy and we saw the results of that today.”

It's not the first time Buffalo's staff has spoken highly of Trubisky. Right about the time Allen was breaking the bank, Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll was talking up Trubisky to reporters.

"Mitch has been a really good addition since he's been here," Daboll said, via Sal Maiorana of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle "A guy that’s played 50-some games, has seen a lot of football. Standing back at that position, it's different than watching it from the press box or watching it from the sideline or anything like that. There’s things that have happened to him throughout his young career so far that I think can help Josh and assist Josh, and vice-versa. I’m glad we have Mitch."

Now, at this point the eye-rolls from Bears fans have hit this level. And to be fair, Trubisky wasn't great in four seasons in the Windy City after Chicago made him the first quarterback selected in 2017.

Kamil Krzaczynski/Associated Press

But for starters, it's not Trubisky's fault he was over-drafted. That he was taken ahead of (and this actually happened) both Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson. That's on Bears GM Ryan Pace, who is currently about as popular in Chicago as eczema.

Also, while Trubisky may not have been great, he also wasn't terrible. In his second season, Trubisky was 11-3 as Chicago's starter and made the Pro Bowl. That season, he completed two-thirds of his passes for 3,223 yards with twice as many touchdowns as interceptions and a passer rating of 95.4. His numbers the following season weren't as good. Neither were 2020's. But Trubisky's career stats include 29 wins in 50 starts, a plus-27 touchdown-to-interception ratio and two playoff trips in four seasons.

Does Trubisky deserve some blame for not improving? Sure. But the Bears aren't exactly loaded with receiving talent outside Allen Robinson, and Matt Nagy has gone from being hailed as an offensive mastermind while winning Coach of the Year honors in 2018 to articles calling for him to be fired during the preseason.

Now, instead of an embattled head coach whose play-calling is criticized with regularity, Trubisky is working with a coordinator in Daboll who Pro Football Focus called the best play-caller in the AFC.

It showed on Saturday. Trubisky looked confident in what he was doing. In control. He was efficient and accurate.

In short, he looked like an NFL starter. A solid one, even.

There's something of a precedent for first-round picks "busting" under center only to find success in a new home. After being drafted eighth overall by the Miami Dolphins in 2012, Ryan Tannehill struggled—he was 42-46 over six seasons in Miami before eventually being traded to the Tennessee Titans to be the backup to Marcus Mariota.

Since then, he has won 18 of 26 starts after hooking up with then-Titans OC Arthur Smith and has been named both a Pro Bowler and the Comeback Player of Year--while leading the Titans to two postseason berths and a spot in the AFC Championship Game.

Now, barring an injury to Allen, Trubisky isn't going to get the sort of in-season audition for a return to starter status that Tannehill did in 2019. But if Allen has to miss a game or two, the Bills have to feel exponentially better about the franchise's ability to weather such an absence after watching Trubisky carve up the Bears. There's also the real possibility of "mop-up" duty in Week 18 if all goes well during the season.

Kamil Krzaczynski/Associated Press

If Trubisky gets an opportunity to play during the regular season and can perform anything like he did Saturday, plenty of teams are going to notice—whether it's clubs with aging veterans under center in Pittsburgh and Atlanta or franchises with uncertainty at the position like the Denver Broncos and New Orleans Saints.

The Houston Texans. The New York Giants. The list of teams with questions under center isn't a short one.

One preseason performance isn't going to single-handedly resurrect Trubisky's career. But it was a reminder that for all the criticism he has endured, Trubisky is a 27-year-old with 50 career starts and two playoff games on his NFL resume.

Give him a year with Allen and Daboll, and a Tannehill-esque second act could be in the offing.

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