If Taylor Gabriel seemed quiet during the Bears' first two games, he's found a way to redeem himself.
In the first two games of the season, the receiver, nicknamed "Turbo" by fans and teammates alike, had only accounted for three catches for 35 yards, and Gabriel made up for the slow start to the season with a veritable explosion of production: six catches for 75 yards and three touchdowns.
Gabriel, who has spent his entire six-year career compensating for his lack of height with superior speed and instincts, had one of his finest nights as a pro. The receiver, standing 5-7 and one of the smallest receivers in the NFL, boasts a 4.27 40-yard dash time, which perennially puts him among the top 10 fastest receivers in the NFL.
In a single game, Gabriel tallied more touchdown passes than all but one of his NFL seasons. Only in the prolific 2016 Atlanta Falcons offense did Gabriel exceed two touchdowns in a season before tonight.
Gabriel did most of his damage—and scored all of his touchdowns—in the second quarter, when the Bears offense finally clicked and allowed the team to put an insurmountable lead on the Redskins.
The first touchdown, on a three-yard out, might be described as a gift from quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. On a rollout to his left that saw the entire side of the field clear, Trubisky floated his first touchdown pass of the season to Gabriel.
"It was a great man beater," said Trubisky, "and he had a dropping defensive end covering him. I was going to run it in, but I wanted to get him a touchdown catch."
The second touchdown happened in quicker fashion, from one yard out. Trubisky rolled to his right and found Gabriel unchallenged to go up 21-0.
The third touchdown was, by far, the most impressive on Gabriel's part. With third-and-17 from the 36-yard line and less than a minute left in the first half, Trubisky hurled a pass to a place that only Gabriel could reach. Though, the officials initially ruled the pass an incompletion out of bounds, the replay showed that Gabriel secured the ball with one foot on the one yard line before dragging his other foot through the end zone.
"It was a great job by the offensive line giving me time and allowing me to move a little bit," said Trubisky. "We had a double moves lined up it wasn't the perfect look that we got for it, but I think me creating time and the offensive line giving me a pocket, I just felt like I put it in a place where Taylor could get it and he did a great job getting his two feet down. It is huge to score before halftime."
Bears coach Matt Nagy enjoyed seeing the offense produce three quick touchdowns.
"It was nice, it felt like, 'finally, here we go,'" said Nagy." It's all about confidence. I'll take it to a quick flip on the field and get some momentum going with those turnovers. Also, they made plays and [Trubisky] made a heck of a throw down the sideline to Gabriel, who made a great catch with both feet in."
Gabriel's three touchdowns proved to be definitive as the Bears offense stalled in the second half, especially after Gabriel left the game late in the third quarter with a concussion.
Injury aside, Gabriel's game finds him in rare air. He is now only one of 35 receivers to have caught three touchdowns in the first half of a game and the first Bears player to do it since Brandon Marshall in 2014. He's only the third receiver to notch three touchdowns in the first half on Monday Night Football in its 49-year history.
It's not just the three touchdowns, it's how quick they happened in succession. One moment, the Bears have only scored from the defense capitalizing on a miscue. The next, the offense has come alive partially due to the Trubisky-Gabriel connection. Gabriel scored all three touchdowns in 6:17, the fastest any player has made that mark since Andre Rison in 1991.
From now on, Gabriel is just that much more likely to worry opposing defensive coordinators.