Fields, Bears throw away last-ditch comeback against Buccaneers

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Sunday’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offered the Bears, and their fans, an opportunity to cleanse their palates after the bitter season opener against the Packers.

But after the demoralizing, 27-17 loss to the Bucs, all parties involved might want to consider fasting. Especially considering the team will be headed into the lion’s den of Arrowhead Stadium against the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs next week, almost certainly staring down an 0-3 start to the season.

The Bears teased us with their first offensive possession of the game on Sunday. They drove 75 yards on 6 plays to score a touchdown and take a quick, 7-3 lead.

After the lamentations all week about how little the Bears used their prized offseason acquisition, receiver D.J. Moore, in the season opener, the Bears made it a clear goal to rectify that from the outset. Moore had 2 catches for 64 yards on that opening drive and finished the game with 6 receptions for 104 yards.

But, alas, things went downhill considerably fast after that.

After the Buccaneers’ opening drive of 12 plays for 67 yards, they followed that up with an 11-play, 53-yard drive with their next possession. Fortunately, the Bears’ special teams came through as they blocked the ensuing field goal attempt, preserving their 7-3 lead.

Clearly, though, with the Buccaneers dominating the time of possession and the Bears defense’s inability to get off the field, it seemed then like it could be a long day for that side of the ball.

The Bears went three-and-out on their next two possessions, even moving backwards 14 yards on a sack and a negative run by Velus Jones.

The Bucs scored a touchdown and then the Bears managed to tie it at 10 after a 10-play drive late in the second quarter. Cairo Santos drilled a 52-yard field goal to knot it up.

On that drive, rookie Roschon Johnson had a 29 yard scamper following an — improved? — block from Chase Claypool. Claypool added an 8-yard catch and run on the drive. Cole Kmet added back-to-back 11-yard catches.

Those were the goods of the drive. The bads were a holding penalty by rookie right tackle Darnell Wright, plus two sacks of Fields for minus-13 yards.

Tampa Bay kicked a field goal to close the half and take a 13-10 lead into intermission.

There was much of the same stagnation by the offense to open the second half. The Bears punted on three straight drives leading into the fourth quarter.

Down 20-10 early in the fourth, Fields helped lead a 90-yard drive that included passes to Khalil Herbert for 23 yards and Moore for 22 before concluding with a 20-yard touchdown strike to Claypool, his first score as a Bear.

How you felt at this point in the game was largely determined by the contents of your cylinder. If your glass was half full, you assumed the Bears were mounting a comeback and were eager to see Fields lead a last-minute drive. If your glass was half empty, you probably felt this late touchdown was just a tease.

As it turned out, the negative nellies would rule the day.

Believe me, my glass was half full as I thought it showed growth for Fields to rise to the challenge and bring the game to within a field goal. But by that point, after all the struggles and stumbles of the offense, consuming the contents of my glass was like choking down a bitter bourbon.

The Bears needed one more defensive stop to give their beleaguered quarterback and offense a last-ditch chance at winning the game. As fate would have it, the defense rose to the occasion and the Bears offense indeed took the field with a little more than two minutes remaining in the game, buried deep within their own end of the field.

After a fortunate offsides penalty on the Buccaneers defense on the first play was nullified by an offensive pass interference penalty from Claypool on the next, Fields dropped back and attempted to throw a screen to Herbert, which was picked off and returned four yards for a touchdown.

Just like that, the last-ditch attempt at a comeback was over as quickly as it started.

Whether you want to blame offensive coordinator Luke Getsy for the screen call or Fields for the poorly-thrown ball — or both — it doesn’t really matter at the end of the day. A lackluster performance for most of the game put them in a desperate situation with two minutes remaining and all but left them for dead.

To put the icing on the cake, the offense went back out onto the field, down by 10, and Fields tossed another interception to close out the game. This one was intended for the struggling Claypool, who let the ball go through his hands as it ricocheted into the awaiting arms of the defender.

Here’s the deal. It’s difficult to call out each individual responsible for this latest demise. The team individually played better than it did against the Packers. Whereas last week it was difficult to find many players worthy of praise, this week featured a handful of playmakers. However, there are several players — and coaches — that need to be held accountable.

Let’s start with the most important player in the organization. There are major concerns about Fields’ development at this stage in his career. Last year, he deserved a forgiving Hall Pass for much of what went wrong. Was he perfect? Of course not. He made his fair share of mistakes. However, he was dominant as a rusher, and when he did throw the ball down the field, he demonstrated some nice touch on his passes.

This season, he has been woefully inadequate and almost appears to have regressed. Could that be part of the coaches’ fault for coaching out his aggressiveness? Perhaps. Or maybe he just hasn’t been able to process the game quickly enough and it’s starting to wear on him.

Next, we have the offensive line. Teven Jenkins was perhaps the best offensive lineman on the team last year and he’ll be out a while. So, maybe some of the line’s problems are attributed to his absence. But he’s only one piece. And while his absence has caused a ripple effect in the middle of the offensive line, it has nothing to do with the tackles. Braxton Jones has undeniably struggled this season. His penalties and his knack for getting beat off the edge are clearly a cause for concern. Rookie Darnell Wright deserves patience, of course, and he’s shown his ability to get out and block on the move. But he’s also shown rookie struggles, which has caused offensive stalling along the way.

Then there’s Claypool, who showed lackluster effort in the first game, followed by improved effort but still offense-stalling blocking and a dropped pass-turned-interception in Game 2. Even when he puts in the effort, Claypool just doesn’t block well. He can’t do it. This limits his value to an offense because it basically means the team has to run to the opposite side of the field, telegraphing to the defense where a play is going.

Moving along, the defensive line is the next source of consternation. We all knew that this was one of, if not the biggest weakness on the team. They are getting blown up in the run game and showing absolutely little to nothing in the pass rush. And the one guy who seems to get to the quarterback — the highly-paid Yannick Ngakoue — is having trouble wrapping him up and finishing the sack.

Next, we have a beat-up secondary to point to. Heading into the season, I felt this was one of the strengths of the team. Jaylon Johnson, Jaquan Brisker, Eddie Jackson and Kyler Gordon, with rookie Tyrique Stevenson joining the mix, are collectively one of the top young secondaries in the league. But injuries have ravaged the group and Stevenson is getting a costly education from opposing receiving corps thus far.

Lastly, we have to call attention to Getsy in particular, but to all coaches involved in the game plan in general. It’s not just one individual who formulates a game plan, it’s a staff effort. Sure, Getsy is responsible for calling the plays on game day, but this is more than just what particular plays are called on a given series. We are not seeing anywhere near the amount of designed runs as we did last year that not just made Fields one of the most dangerous players in the NFL, but opened up possibilities on offense. Yes, Fields is responsible for poor or slow decision making. But the offensive game plans and play calling have to help him out.

We could go on and on, but we’d be beating a dead horse. Those are the primary players and position groups that need to improve if the Bears are going to turn this thing around.

Is beating the Chiefs at Arrowhead a possibility? Well, everything is a possibility. But I wouldn’t bet on it. It is very likely that we’ll be talking about an 0-3 team a week from now. And depending on your perspective during the offseason, expectations have changed dramatically at this point.

We’re no longer talking about a team with an outside shot at making the playoffs at this point, I don’t think. I could be wrong. I had hopes that the team would be competitive every week and sneak out enough victories to push for that watered-down seventh seed in the NFC playoffs. But those hopes have been quickly quashed thanks to a lackluster offense and a still-struggling defense.

At this point, expectations have to change. We have to focus on growth from within. Which players can get from A to Z, or even A to B at this point?

The hope is that Fields can get much, much better as the season goes on, and that will become more likely a proposition if the big uglies in front of him grow as well.

Because if the events of the first two games were to continue throughout the remainder of the season, Marty McFly, then the Bears will draft a new quarterback in 2023, the clock will be reset, and we’ll be back to the future next year with an alternate reality that none of us want to be living in.

Former high school and college kicker. Lifelong Chicago Bears fan. I've been writing about the navy blue and burnt orange since 2007. You can follow on Twitter, like it on Facebook, or email me.