For about three quarters of action on Sunday, the Bears looked like they had turned a corner. The mass of Bears faithful were buzzing at Soldier Field as Justin Fields was humming like a finely-tuned piece of machinery. The besieged quarterback set a Bears franchise record with 16 straight completions. His only incomplete pass of the entire first half was on a Hail Mary attempt to close the second quarter.
Unfortunately, that performance wasn’t enough for the Bears, whose second-half – and specifically fourth-quarter – collapse left Soldier Field in silence, save for the smattering of jubilant Broncos fans in attendance. The Broncos escaped with a 31-28 victory over a defeated and despondent Bears squad.
In total, Fields had a terrific day. He completed 28 of 35 passes for 335 yards, four touchdowns and one interception, with a 132.7 passer rating. His two blemishes were big ones – a lost fumble on a sack, which the Broncos returned for a touchdown, and a game-clinching interception on the final drive of the game.
The fumble was an iffy one. Fields needs to hold onto that football with a defender bearing down on him like that. But he saw Kmet open in the flat and he was trying to make a play. He got hit as he geared up to release it. As for the interception – ironically, also on a play intended for Kmet – it looked as though Fields and Kmet were on separate pages. Kmet read that the defense was in man coverage, which called for him to go one direction; Fields read zone coverage, which is why he threw it in the other direction.
After the game, the Broncos reportedly told the Chicago Tribune’s Brad Biggs that they were in man coverage. So, assuming the report is true, that would have meant that Kmet read the play correctly and Fields did not.
Still, if you’re going to blame a 21-point collapse on Fields, who had an exceptional day at the office, you’ve completely misread the entire game.
I know everyone is quick to pile on to offensive coordinator Luke Getsy, but the Bears had a great offensive game plan this week. Getsy got Fields on the move where he is most comfortable, and also ran plays that called for Fields to get the ball out of his hands quickly, preventing a pass rush from getting to him through a broken-down offensive line.
You may not like Getsy or think he’s the right man for the job, but that is a story for a different day. Like Fields, he wasn’t the problem in this game.
No, the problem in Sunday’s embarrassing collapse rests almost exclusively with Matt Eberflus and his defense. In fairness to him, the defense is decimated with injuries and a lack of talent up front. It was bound to catch up with them at some point during this game.
But once the Broncos offense started catching fire in the second half, Eberflus had no answer for them as they just climbed their way back into the game.
I usually don’t second-guess coaches on their play calling or in-game decision-making. But I certainly don’t understand Eberflus’ decision to go for it on fourth down with the game tied late in the fourth quarter. It either showed a complete lack of confidence in his defense – justifiably – or a false notion of security in his offense to pick up a yard to try to run out the clock and kick a game-winning field goal with little to no time left.
Eberflus declared it was the latter, but it was probably a combination of the both.
“It was a half yard, so I felt great about getting that right there,” Eberflus explained after the game. “I think the way we were running the football and the confidence we had on offense in that moment, I would say that we’re going to do that right there.”
I think sometimes it’s fine to be aggressive – such as in the first quarter when he chose not to go for it on fourth down and sent out his punt team instead on the opening drive of the game.
But in other situations, you take the points when it makes sense to do so.
Yes, I get that the defense is terrible. It proved how bad it was immediately after that turnover on downs. Russell Wilson connected with rookie receiver Marvin Mims for a 48-yard gain that put the Broncos in field goal position, which they would later capitalize off of with the game-winning field goal.
But, still, you take the field goal and give your defense a chance to close out the game. And even if they could not hold the Broncos’ offense off the scoreboard in that final drive, at least you give Fields and the offense the ball with the game tied, instead of chasing three points.
For those Bears fans who are completely out on Fields, Sunday had to be a good day for your cause. Fields committed two costly turnovers down the stretch, whether they were primarily his fault or not, and the Bears now remain winless, along with the Carolina Panthers. The Bears, of course, possess the Panthers’ first-round pick next year following the DJ Moore-first overall pick swap this past offseason.
So, if you’re rooting for USC quarterback Caleb Williams to join the Bears, you’re probably feeling pretty good about those chances right now.
But I would advise you not to get too comfortable just yet. At least not as it pertains to the Bears’ own draft pick.
For starters, even if the Bears’ defense doesn’t improve, it’ll be hard for them to lose enough games if Fields continues to play the way he did on Sunday. Plus, if he does continue to play that way, why would you want them to move on from him?
Fields — at the moment — is on pace for over 3,600 yards and 30 passing touchdowns, which are more than usable numbers. Yeah, he’s not going to have too many 4-touchdown games, but he’s also not going to continue to put up duds like he did against Kansas City. The truth lies somewhere in between.
However, if you’re like me, and you’re not decided on Fields yet, then Sunday was just another difficult day to digest, and you’re thankful it is the Bears’ organization that has to make the decision on Fields’ fifth-year option and his future with the team, not you.
He’ll get another opportunity on Thursday to extract some measure of revenge against the Commanders, who beat the Bears on a Thursday night last year as well. For the historically inclined, you might remember that was the last game of complete offensive ineptitude before the Bears unleashed the phenomenon of the running quarterback the following week at New England.
Will Thursday be a continuation of Sunday’s passing success? Will it hearken back to last year? Only time will tell. But the seats are getting awfully hot at Halas Hall.