Four members of the Bears' rookie draft class all played major roles in Sunday's 33-7 win over the Cincinnati Bengals.
Though the team's record is not where anyone with the franchise would like it to be, the Bears are optimistic that the 2017 rookie class will be building blocks for the foreseeable future.
"What's been frustrating for me and the coaches is that a lot of us have had our day in the sun, but to see young guys come in, and work hard, and not reap those benefits," coach John Fox said following the victory. "I thought Mitch Trubisky played very well…. It's just kind of nice to see some of those young guys experience the benefits of all that hard work."
It all starts with Trubisky, the quarterback that Bears general manager Ryan Pace traded up for in order to select with the draft's second overall selection. Trubisky may have been a North Carolina Tar Heel in college, but he was born and raised in Mentor, Ohio, making the game against the Bengals a homecoming of sorts. In his first professional game in his home state, Trubisky showed why he was worthy of the trade and high selection. The rookie completed 25 of 32 passes for 271 yards, with one passing touchdown and another score as a runner.
Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky attempts a pass against the Bengals.
Though he had more passing yards (297) versus Green Bay in Week 10, and a higher completion percentage (80 percent) in Week 12 against San Francisco, Sunday was the best performance of Trubisky's career. The Bears were aggressive throwing the ball down the field against Cincinnati, and the quarterback hit eight different receivers while averaging nearly 8.5 yards per attempt.
One of Trubisky's favorite targets against the Bengals was Shaheen, who also had his best performance of his career on Sunday. The tight end's four catches and 44 yards were both career-highs, and he put an exclamation point on the game with a 1-yard touchdown catch early in the fourth quarter. Shaheen has become a red zone favorite for Trubisky, with a quarter of his catches this year going for touchdowns. In total, Bears rookies have had a hand in 15 of Chicago's 26 touchdowns on the season.
"Adam did a great job when I threw the ball his way and he was coming down with it every single time," Trubisky said. "It was awesome, and I guess it's just a tribute to the extra work we put in before and after practice, and me and him just getting on the same page."
Cohen also contributed to the offense, as well as being the primary returner for kickoffs and punts. The running back seems to have jaw-dropping highlights every week, and Sunday was no different. In the fourth quarter, the Bears lined up in the formation that allowed Cohen to take the direct snap. Having shown earlier in the season his ability to throw, the defense stayed on its heels in case Cohen did decide to pass. Instead he took off, going around the right side of the line for a 29-yard gain. He finished with 131 total yards as a rusher, receiver and returner.
It wasn't just the rookie-led offense and special teams that thrived against the Bengals; all sides of the ball were fantastic in the win. Chicago's defense allowed just 14 first downs, the fewest it has given up all year, and held the Bengals to only 4.4 yards per offensive play. Jackson led the way, throwing himself a birthday party by taking a pair of gifts.
On the day he turned 24, the rookie displayed the playmaking skills that made him a top prospect out of Alabama. Jackson only lasted to the fourth round in the draft because he was rehabbing from a broken leg, but the Bears were confident he'd return to full strength. He showed his nose for the ball at the end of the third quarter, intercepting an Andy Dalton pass that had been deflected into the air by cornerback Bryce Callahan. Following the Shaheen touchdown, Jackson recorded another takeaway, ripping the ball away from A.J. Green before the Bengals wide receiver could run out of bounds.
Initially refs called Green out, but a successful challenge by Fox showed that Jackson successfully stripped the receiver of possession while he was still in the field of play. Chicago got the ball back again and turned it into seven more points, the final score in the blowout win.
"That's what we're taught in practice," Jackson said. "When you get there, you try to rip the ball out and that was what I was able to do."
The final quarter of the 2017 Bears season will be all about the development of the team's rookie class, which has already answered a ton of questions by showing they can be game-changers in all three phases of football.
"I just feel confident I'm getting better each week," Trubisky said. "And, yes, it's fun to play, but I get feedback from my teammates. I can tell that they're confident in me, and that my play is just going to get better each week, and I know how to prepare. I just need to go out there and execute and just do it the way I'm coached. For us to come out with a win, that's the most important thing and the most important thing for me."