LAKE FOREST, Ill. (670 The Score) -- In the postgame locker room last Thursday at Solder Field following the Bears’ third consecutive loss, coach Matt Eberflus offered his players a message of hope and a claim that they’re close to success.
Those words didn’t seem to land with Bears second-year quarterback Justin Fields, who following that 12-7 loss to the Commanders spoke of his frustration with being told they’re "close." The disconnect between Eberflus, Fields and a few key players on the roster was clear.
Sensing Fields' displeasure and his physical and emotional pain following that loss, Eberflus met with him in the aftermath of that game and they looked ahead to what’s to come. They're now focused on leading the Bears through their struggles together.
“You focus on where your feet are right now and try to get better and improve every single rep, every single practice, individually, as a unit and as a football team,” Eberflus said. “You just be here right now and make sure you’re doing a good job of focusing on the fundamentals and techniques of your position.”
The Bears (2-4) have underperformed in Eberflus' first season in Chicago, with Fields and the offense scuffling. The hope was that Eberflus’ culture combined with Fields’ growth could elevate the Bears amid a transitional year. Instead, it appears Chicago is further behind that anticipated.
Understanding that development requires patience, Eberflus' hope is that Fields remains focused on the process rather than the big picture.
“I got to get better at everything,” Fields said. “I haven’t reached my full potential in any aspect of the game of quarterback play.
“I can play better. I’m always going to be like that. I’m a perfectionist, but it’s hard to be perfect.”
Fields has completed 54.8% of his passes for 869 yards, four touchdowns and five interceptions this season. The Bears rank 31st in scoring, 28th in total offense and dead last in passing yardage in the NFL.
A first-time head coach, Eberflus has never been in this particular position before as the leader of a struggling football team. But Eberflus has experienced it alongside his mentor Gary Pinkel, for whom he played for at Toledo and coached under at Missouri.
Missouri went 9-14 in Pinkel’s first two seasons before going 8-5 during his third year in 2003. The Tigers were 118-73 during Pinkel’s 15 years as coach. Eberflus was his defensive coordinator for those first eight years before joining the NFL ranks.
“It goes back to acquiring players and also coaching your butt off,” Eberflus said of Pinkel’s turnaround. “And keep staying the course. The one thing I learned from Gary is, man, you have to stay the course. What do you stand for? What are your principles? And you better stand on top of those and have your eyes forward all the time.
“He was the same guy every day. Every day. We stood on the principles we believed in and tried to improve individually and collectively as a group.”
The challenge will get more difficult as Chicago looks to break its losing streak. On Monday night, the Bears (2-4) visit a Patriots team that's 3-3 and playing strong football in recent weeks. Beyond that, Chicago faces just one team in its final 11 games – Detroit in two matchups – that currently holds a losing record.
That means there could be more struggles ahead for the Bears. Eberflus and Fields recognize they must lead their group forward and trust that their work will pay off, even if it doesn't feel so close.
“Just got to work harder,” Fields said. “That’s the only thing I know how to do.”
Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.