I’d be lying if I said I expected the Bears to have a shot to beat the Buccaneers on Sunday. I’d also be fibbing if I said I was anticipating a five-touchdown blowout.
The Bears got pounded by the defending champions, 38-3, on Sunday and there was very little to get excited about.
Admittedly, there were several run plays that made me emote more than a murmur, given the increased and sustained level of run blocking this team has shown in recent weeks. The Bears managed to put up 143 rushing yards against one of the league’s top run defenses. Khalil Herbert even became the first running back to top 100 yards against the Bucs since last December.
Quick side note: let’s stop anointing Herbert the next big thing and saying David Montgomery is expendable. Montgomery would have feasted on these past few opponents had he been healthy. I give more credit to the line than to Herbert, even though I commend Herbert for making the most of his opportunity.
But I digress.
A successful run game, though, is no solace for the way the Bears got whooped on Sunday. As I tweeted after the game, a blowout loss like that always lets you know where you stand in comparison to the league’s best, and the Bears clearly are a long way from championship contention.
But then, a championship isn’t really the focus of this season now, is it? Not since the Bears promoted Justin Fields to full-time starting quarterback. Since that happened, the entire season has become about him and his development. Or so I’m told.
If that’s the case, we need to focus our attention on Fields, and his performance on Sunday was fairly poor. It wasn’t quite the disaster that we had witnessed against the Browns, but it was far from good enough.
Fields completed 22 of 32 passes for just 184 yards with zero touchdowns. He tossed three interceptions and fumbled the ball three times, losing two of them. He had a 44.3 passer rating and a paltry 5.8 yards per attempt. For context, that is 0.4 less than his season average, where he ranks 31st in the league.
Remember how excited Bears fans were following his performance against the Lions when he was passing it down the field and picking up “chunk plays?” Yeah, there was none of that on Sunday and the well has been pretty dry all season.
I don’t blame Fields for everything. Of course not. It’s a team game and the Bears needed a team effort to play that poorly. And Fields still doesn’t have the weapons around him to open things up. Prior to the game, right tackle Elijah Wilkinson was placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list, leaving Lachavious Simmons to start in his place. Needless to say, that didn’t go well and he was summarily replaced by Alex Bars.
But I will not be a Fields apologist like so many others. If the Bears theoretically threw in the towel on this season when they elected to start Fields, they damn well better figure out if he’s the right guy or not. I know that can be difficult when he’s in need of a lot of help around him. But face it: he has a long way to go.
Fields continues to struggle reading and feeling pressure. He’s slow to get rid of the ball and he still lacks the desire — or the explosiveness — to take off and run when a play breaks down. I know that seems odd to say given Fields’ speed. But unless the coaching staff is telling him to string out a play and wait until the last possible microsecond to find an open receiver, the rookie seems reluctant or too methodical to tuck the ball and run.
Fields had five turnovers in this game. I know the apologists will blame the offensive line for his fumbles and the receivers for his interceptions, but he shoulders the blame for most of those. Allen Robinson fell down on one of the picks and Darnell Mooney let one pass go through his hands. But Fields also misfired on his throws and a quarterback needs to protect the ball in the pocket.
The San Francisco 49ers, who have lost four straight games, will come to town next week as the Bears look to rebound from Sunday’s disaster. This could have been the game that featured a rookie duel between Fields and Trey Lance, but the 49ers elected to stick with their veteran starter, Jimmy Garoppolo. Whether or not that was the right move is for the boozers on the barstools to debate.
But if we’re to continue this season of evaluation for Justin Fields, then Sunday’s game offers a great opportunity to see how the rookie responds to adversity. The last time he faced this kind of struggle, he bounced back with a strong performance against the Lions. Let’s see if he can do the same against the Niners.