When we last left Allen Robinson, he was giving the Bears exactly what they paid for. In the biggest game of last season, Robinson put together a highlight reel that easily could serve as a trailer for 2019.
There he was in the third quarter, torching Eagles cornerback Avonte Maddox on a slant-and-go and hauling in a 45-yard catch to catalyze a key field-goal drive.
There he was in the fourth quarter, with another crisp move past Maddox, this time turning an out-and-up into a go-ahead 22-yard touchdown catch.
And on the season's final drive, with the Bears down by a point in the final minute, Robinson was part of arguably the Bears' biggest play all evening, hauling in a beautiful back-shoulder dart from Mitch Trubisky.
It was the chunk play that pushed the Bears into range for a potential winning field goal.
Imagine the praise that would've come Robinson's way had it not been for those two doinks on Cody Parkey's kick that punctuated a heartbreaking 16-15 playoff loss.
The receiver's final numbers: 10 catches, 143 yards.
Said Bears receivers coach Mike Furrey: "With that Philly game, it was 'Wow! There he is. Can we keep playing?' That's where we're at now. That's exciting for him and exciting for us."
That was Robinson's final performance of his first season in Chicago. It was a reminder of why 10 months earlier the Bears had guaranteed him more than $25 million on a three-year contract that could be worth up to $42 million. This was a glimpse of what could be ahead as the Bears' window to win a Super Bowl opens.
For Robinson, it was validation of all the work he had put in to work back from a torn ACL in his left knee, proof that his investment in learning Matt Nagy's playbook and developing timing with Trubisky could fuel his ascent.
"As the whole season progressed, I just continued to improve," Robinson said. "I felt better. Everything I was doing started to get sharper. For me, that's what it was about."
For what it's worth, Robinson's 26th birthday doesn't arrive until next week. He's in his prime. And if there's any player on the roster who represents the DNA of this Bears team, it's the sixth-year receiver.
Robinson is young and talented and still developing. He's hungry and unselfish and ego-free. He sees an opportunity for 2019 to be special and is determined to seize it.
Last season's closing argument – that 143-yard eruption in the playoff loss – should be the kind of production that becomes more consistent.
Robinson's 2018 numbers were solid but far from spectacular. He ranked 57th in the NFL in catches (55) and 36th in receiving yards (754). He had four touchdown receptions. But with his health back at full strength and his comfort in the offense growing, there's reason to believe a 1,200-yard, 10-touchdown season should be within reach.
At the time of Robinson's signing, the Bears were betting that the true return on investment would come beyond 2018. They understood the receiver's production in his first season after knee surgery might be modest. But they loved the kid's makeup.
"He's a confident, strong son of a gun who loves to work and loves to play and loves to compete," Furrey said. "... He's always the same guy. He loves being coached. He loves to be reassured that what he's doing is right."
The Bears have just three weeks left until they open the season Sept. 5 with that bright-lights, big-stage game against the Packers at Soldier Field. Without question, Robinson and his offensive teammates understand there is still a bunch to iron out. But the veteran receiver also is thrilled to be attacking that checklist with optimism.
"Since the first day of camp, everybody has gone about ironing out everything they wanted to," he said. "For me, a lot of the things we were off on early in camp, we're starting to hit on now. That's across the board – up front, on the outside as receivers, in the run game. I really like where we're at right now."
Robinson also is convinced his starting quarterback is progressing exactly how the offense needs him to be.
"If certain plays are supposed to hit in certain windows or defenses are giving us certain coverages and we may know the soft spot pre-snap, we're hitting those windows," Robinson said. "And everybody is on the same page with what we're trying to accomplish and what windows we're trying to get at. It's all about everybody seeing the defense through the same set of eyes pre-snap."
Now, as Nagy explores the best ways to get Trubisky into a comfort zone for the season, it's a true luxury to have a polished big-play receiver in the mix.
A year ago at this time, Nagy was still trying to read Robinson. The veteran hadn't practiced much over the offseason as his recovery from ACL surgery progressed. He was a new face in a new offense playing for a new head coach. Nagy immediately noticed Robinson's laser focus but also labeled him as "a little introverted."
In Year 2, those within the Bears organization see Robinson emerging as one of the team's best tone-setting leaders. Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace can't stop gushing about Robinson's work ethic. They admire his push to get the best out of himself every day and love his steady competitive tenacity.
"He's one of the top players I've ever coached," Nagy said. "Just in regards to being so humble in what he does, so professional in what he does and really good at what he does."
Trubisky this week added his endorsement of Robinson's value.
"When he's healthy and he's full-go, he can be unstoppable out there," Trubisky said. "If you just put the ball up in his area he's going to go up and make plays. ... When it's one-on-one, the ball is going to (No.) 12."
That's all Robinson wants. Opportunities. A chance to contribute to a 2019 season with so much potential.
"Now you're seeing him have that little pep in his step," Furrey said. "The (serious) demeanor hasn't changed. It's who he is. But you can just tell that he's excited. He's excited to be healthy and he's excited to already know what we're doing. And he's excited about where he can go in this offense."