LAKE FOREST, Ill. (670 The Score) — Late in the second quarter Sunday as the Bears faced a crucial third-and-long in Buccaneers territory, quarterback Justin Fields took the shotgun snap and looked downfield. He shuffled in his stance as two, three, four, five, six seconds passed, then he was drilled by Tampa Bay pass rusher Cam Gill on a strip-sack.
The Bears fell on the football, and kicker Cairo Santos hit a 52-yard field goal to pay off the 10-play, 46-yard drive with three points. But it was a play from the Bears' 27-17 loss to the Buccaneers that stuck with Fields as he reviewed his performance on film back at Halas Hall.
Fields had made a point to stay in the pocket, as he has been coached by the Bears to do this season. In doing so, he felt he passed up the opportunity to scramble for a potential big gain.
“I felt like I wasn’t necessarily playing my game,” Fields said. “I felt like I was robotic and not playing like myself. So, my goal this week is to say, ‘F it’ and just go out there and play football how I know how to play football. That includes thinking less and going out there and playing off of instincts rather than just off so much info in my head, data in my head.
“Going back to (how) it’s a game and that’s it. Because, that’s when I play my best, is when I’m just out there free and being myself. Just kind of bump all (of) what I should do, this and that, pocket stuff. I’m going to go out there and be me.
The 24-year-old Fields is playing in a pivotal third NFL season as the Bears seek to mold him into a more prolific passer. Through 29 career games (27 starts), Fields has completed 59.8% of his passes for 4,539 yards, 26 touchdowns and 24 interceptions. In 2022, Fields rushed for 1,143 yards, the second-most by a quarterback in a single season in NFL history, and eight touchdowns on the ground.
In the loss to the Buccaneers, Fields had four carries for three yards. He attempted to stay within the progressions of offensive coordinator Luke Getsy’s scheme and work on his development as a pocket passer. Fields felt he was thinking too much in playing that type of style.
“It could be coaching, I think,” Fields said when asked about why he has been overthinking. “But at the end of the day, they’re doing their job when they give me what to look at. But at the end of the day, I can’t be thinking about that when the game comes. I prepare myself throughout the week. When the game comes, it’s time to play free at that point. Just thinking less and playing more.
“When you’re fed a lot of information at a point in time and you’re trying to think about that info when you’re playing, it doesn’t let you play like yourself. You’re trying to process so much information to where it’s like, if I just simplify it in my mind, I would have did this.
“I think that’s just the biggest thing for me is playing the game how I know how to play it and how I’ve been playing it my whole life. That’s what I got to get back to doing.”
Fields made those comments in a media session before practice Wednesday. After practice concluded and as his comments about "coaching" being a source of his frustration spread like wildfire throughout the NFL landscape, Fields called reporters back to his locker to clarify what he said earlier.
“I’m not blaming anything on the coaches," Fields said. "I’m never going to blame anything on the coaches. I’m never going to blame anything on my teammates. … Never will you hear that. So, I just wanted to clear that up. Just know that I need to play better. Point blank. That’s it.”
On Sunday, Fields struggled with his progressions in the pocket and missed key opportunities, including a vertical route by running back Roschon Johnson in which he was open near the end zone. Fields took a sack on that play.
Fields declined to get into detail about how his conversation with the Bears’ coaching staff went as he expressed his frustrations, but he felt the coaches were receptive to his ideas. The Bears view the source of Fields’ struggles as a “mixture” of adjusting to the coaching staff's wishes to stay in the pocket more and also him missing opportunities downfield, head coach Matt Eberflus said.
“He wants to be able to let it flow, let it go, let him be himself and play free,” Eberflus said. “I think that's where he's at right now. And that's what we want. We want him to do that. He feels that presence in the pocket where he's got pressure and he sees a place where he can work to either do a scramble drill, throw the ball down the field or take off and go.
“It's the partnership. He respects that partnership and so do we. So, we want him to play free. I think it's very important that as we work through this making sure that he does play free, that we coach him that way. A lot of times, he wants to be perfect. He wants to be perfect, he wants to do it the right way, and there’s a balance there.”
The No. 11 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, Fields will be eligible for a contract extension after this season. Beyond that, another key decision looms, as the Bears must also determine this offseason whether to tender or decline his fifth-year option for the 2025 season. With the Bears holding the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft this past spring, general manager Ryan Poles passed on the opportunity to select Fields’ replacement, instead making key investments around him while trading the top pick to the Panthers.
The Bears are off to an 0-2 start and are riding a franchise-worst 12-game losing streak dating back to the middle of last season. They travel to Kansas City on Sunday to take on the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs (1-1) at Arrowhead Stadium.
“In the grand scheme of things, I have to still be the person and the player (that’s) got me up to this point,” Fields said. “Rather than changing my whole game, just implement it in my game and make those little corrections. But don’t allow that to change me as a whole player.
“Nobody is going to take anything personal. If the coaches say we need to play better, I need to play better, I’m not taking that personal because I think everybody in here knows that I need to play better, including myself. They’re not going to take it personal if us as players go to them and say, ‘I didn’t like this call (or) they need to be better.’ We’re all grown men in the building and we all can take it.
“It’s about working with each other, getting each other better, holding each other accountable and working towards the same goal. In terms of that fact, yeah, I think everybody can do better around here, including myself.”
Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.