(670 The Score) Late in the game Sunday at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, with the Bears 93 yards away from possibly stealing a win they didn’t deserve, did anybody in Chicago really believe Justin Fields could pull it off?
Did you move to the edge of your seat?
Did you text your buddies and alert them to what the Bears were about to do?
Did you really think Fields was capable of making his 27th NFL start a special one?
Who did? Who really was surprised to be disappointed?
What so many longtime Bears observers have seen before, we saw again. How ridiculously redundant this organization has become.
The Bears dropped to 0-2 on Sunday in Florida but lost something potentially even more significant in the process: hope in Justin Fields.
That risks overstating the situation two games into Fields’ third season as the Bears' starter, but let’s just say Doubters are leading Believers by two touchdowns in Chicago and it feels like it’s getting late.
Put another way, if Fields really did begin the No Excuses Tour, this is no time for alibis. This is the time for answers. The most prevalent expectations in town after two games is whatever you call the opposite of hope. The prevailing theme has become if something bad can happen with Fields at quarterback, it will.
Which is exactly what happened with the game on the line and Fields in position to change the 2023 narrative with a drive to score a game-winning touchdown or a game-tying field goal.
Buccaneers linebacker Shaquil Barrett damaged a football city’s psyche by intercepting Fields’ attempted screen pass and returning it four yards for the game-clinching touchdown in his team's 27-17 victory over the Bears. One series after completing all six of his passes on a 90-yard touchdown drive that made a dramatic finish possible, Fields threw his second pick-six in two games. There were complex explanations to be heard and responsibilities to be shared over what went wrong on the play to lead to the costly interception but, in the end, it will go down as an opportunity Fields missed.
In an instant, a chance for Fields to play the hero so many want him to be turned into a cameo role as goat.
The defeat extended the Bears’ losing streak to 12 games, and it now has been 328 days since they won their last game – Oct. 24, 2022 against the Patriots. With Patrick Mahomes and the Super Bowl champion Chiefs up next, the Bears are staring at an 0-3 start and perhaps one more frustrating Fields game away from Chicagoans furiously Googling “USC schedule” so they can start watching Caleb Williams, college football’s version of Mahomes.
Nobody wants to endure another season like last year, when losing was celebrated and the countdown to April’s draft began in October
Fields continues to complicate his own progress, holding onto the ball too long in a pocket that he clearly doesn’t trust. He completed 16 of 29 passes for 211 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions for a 61.1 passer rating and was also sacked six times. On several of those sacks, Fields held onto the ball too long. On several others, protection broke down.
Two things can be true. One, Fields must hear the clock in his head ticking louder and faster so that he throws the ball away rather than take sacks that kill drives and momentum. And two, the offensive line’s inconsistency contributes to why Fields feels so skittish every time he drops more than three steps. By now – Sunday was his 27th NFL start — you would think Fields knows how to get rid of the ball quickly under pressure, but he consistently looks like the last guy to realize the play has broken down.
The Bears' passing game too often still looks too hard. The easy completions aren’t easy, the so-called layups feel more like 3-pointers. Either Fields has regressed or he has failed to improve at a rate the Bears need to continue to implement Luke Getsy’s offense.
It doesn’t help that the Bears find themselves trying to develop a left tackle while developing a franchise quarterback. That’s tough to do simultaneously – even tougher given how much Braxton Jones has struggled at a premium position so far this season. Jones has been flagged six times in two games and – regardless of metrics often used to identify progress – looks more like a liability than an asset at a position the Bears would be wise to reconsider. That’s somewhat unrealistic to expect during the season, but Jones too often appears overmatched, as he did when Joe Tryon-Shoyinka sped past him on the opening series of the second half for a sack. Speed rushers, bull rushers, no matter the type, all rushers have given Jones fits so far.
But this day likely will be remembered as the game Baker Mayfield outplayed Fields, who had a chance to march his team down the field late in the fourth quarter but stumbled.
The last time Mayfield played the Bears, for the Browns back in Week 3 of the 2021 season, Fields was making his first NFL start. Fields has made 26 starts since that 26-6 loss in Cleveland. How is he noticeably better? It’s objectively hard to identify obvious areas of improvement. Much of that onus for not improving much falls on Fields but not all of it, not even close. Too many coaches with too few answers clearly have cluttered Fields’ mind to the point that he often thinks more than he reacts. In the first two games, with few exceptions, that has defined Fields’ disappointing play as much as anything.
Mayfield, meanwhile, is on his fourth team in three years, having bounced from the Browns to the Panthers to the Rams and now to the Buccaneers. Through it all, Mayfield’s confidence remains the strongest part of his game. It flashed again against the Bears when Mayfield was as resilient as he was resourceful, making something out of nothing against a defense that charitably gave up yards but not points. In the end, the Bucs scored enough with Mayfield completing 26 of 34 passes for 317 yards, one touchdown and a 114.5 passer rating.
Unlike the opener, the Bears showed obvious urgency early.
Safety Jaquan Brisker jumped a route on the second snap of the game but dropped an interception on a pass intended for Mike Evans. Mayfield picked on rookie cornerback Tyrique Stevenson, but the Bucs had to settle for a field goal on the opening series. Mayfield gifted the Bears an overthrow of Chris Godwin for what would've been a sure touchdown.
When the Bears got the ball, they responded like a team tired of having its intensity questioned all week. They committed to targeting DJ Moore – the neglected man against the Packers – and he made that look like a wise decision by catching two passes for 65 yards on Chicago's opening drive. He finished with six catches for 104 yards. Fields took his second carry of the series into the end zone for a one-yard touchdown run that gave the Bears a rare lead. Even if Getsy sounded like a coach who paid no attention to critics wondering why Moore had only two targets against the Packers, the immediate results revealed his hearing is just fine.
Chase Claypool, another scapegoat whose indifference in the opener sparked a week-long discussion about his attitude, played a big role despite speculation that he'd be inactive as a healthy scratch. Claypool caught an eight-yard pass and made a nice block on the same series in the second quarter but then drew criticism from Fox Sports analyst Daryl Johnston for not being “more competitive” on a near-interception by the Bucs at the end of the third quarter. Then with 6:17 left in the fourth quarter, Claypool caught a 20-yard touchdown pass from Fields at the end of an eight-play, 90-yard drive that created some drama.
Early and often, the Bucs countered by moving the ball with relative ease and mostly stopped themselves in the first half, scoring only 13 points despite gaining 292 yards, with the stiffest resistance coming on special teams. Losing Eddie Jackson to an injury hurt a position with bad depth, but the Bears' problems go deeper for a defense that didn’t have a sack. Rasheem Green blocked a 40-yard field-goal attempt by Chase McLaughlin but, other than that, injuries and inconsistency compounded the challenge for the Bears defense.
So did shoddy officiating. The Bucs scored their first touchdown thanks to an egregious misjudgment by the officiating crew. Evans, one of the NFL’s most feared receivers, caught six passes for 171 yards and a touchdown. On his 70-yard reception, Evans pushed off Stevenson like LeBron James creating separation for his jump shot. And like so often happens in pro sports, the star received the respect from the officials and no flag was thrown. Stevenson bounced off Evans, who leapt to catch the pass and sprinted downfield to set up a Rachaad White four-yard touchdown run. One day, perhaps Stevenson gets that call.
Sunday wasn’t that day.
Sunday was another day of squandered opportunities and learning experiences, a day that felt like the Bears lost more than a football game.
“It’s a long season," coach Matt Eberflus told reporters postgame.
Consider yourself warned.