The Bears haven’t even lost their third game of the season yet — that comes this Sunday in Kansas City — and the team is already heading toward Defcon White Sox. That’s Chicago shorthand for embarrassing disaster.
Let’s recap what happened Wednesday at Halas Hall as the 0-2 Bears prepare for a potential 13th consecutive loss:
• Embattled quarterback Justin Fields emphatically declared he’s done getting over-coached and he’s going to play his way from now on.
• Bears coach Matt Eberflus not only refused to comment on the absence of defensive coordinator Alan Williams, who missed last week’s game for personal reasons, but he also wouldn’t answer whether Williams is still the defensive coordinator.
• The Bears placed their left tackle, Braxton Jones, on injured reserve. It’s not as juicy as the other two topics, but it’s pretty critical to Fields succeeding.
• Hours after his quotes went viral, Fields addressed the media again and tried to walk back some of it.
• A few hours after Eberflus no-commented on Williams, the defensive coordinator resigned.
• Oh, and it was GM Ryan Poles’ birthday and backup quarterback Nathan Peterman got cut.
So, there’s a lot going on and most of it is not positive. As 0-2 teams go, the Bears feel like they’re already 0-12.
Why Bears QB Justin Fields’ coaching comments left our experts stunned
If you want to know what’s wrong with this team, well, it’s too early in the season to be quoting former coach John Fox, but as he famously said, “It’s all a problem.” Fox didn’t win many games for the Bears, but he did sum up their annual issues with one pithy description. It lives on long past his 14-34 record.
The only thing the Bears have going for them right now is the guy who replaced Fox, Matt Nagy, is now the Chiefs offensive coordinator and he looks like the only coach capable of making Patrick Mahomes put up Mitch Trubisky-like numbers.
The Chiefs barely came up as reporters quizzed both Eberflus and Fields on Wednesday. It makes sense. The Chiefs don’t need to do anything fancy to win Sunday. The Bears are the story and not just locally. For a 24/7 NFL media, the Bears are about to become everyone’s punching bag and punchline, if they weren’t already.
Fields has been getting crushed for his subpar play over the first two weeks and he seems tired of both the narrative and the results.
“My goal this week is just to say ‘F it’ and go out there and play football how I know to play football,” he said. “That includes thinking less and just going out there and playing off of instincts rather than so much info in my head, data in my head. Just literally going out there and playing football. Going back to it’s a game and that’s it.”
I respect the attitude, at least.
Bears defensive coordinator Alan Williams resigns
Fields admitted he was playing “robotic” in last week’s 27-17 loss in Tampa, and that came after a clunker at home. When asked why he thought he was playing so poorly, he replied: “You know, could be coaching, I think. At the end of the day, they are doing their job when they are giving me what to look at, but at the end of the day, I can’t be thinking about that when the game comes. I prepare myself throughout the week and then when the game comes, it’s time to play free at that point. Thinking less and playing more.”
That quote, seemingly directed at offensive coordinator Luke Getsy, was followed up on and expounded at greater length. Fields said the overflow of information had him flustered. I’m sure plenty of former starting quarterbacks can commiserate.
“You’re trying to process so much information to where it’s like, if I just simplify it in my mind I would have did this,” he said. “I saw a few plays on Sunday, if I was playing like my old self, we would have had a positive play. There would have been more third-down conversations. I think that’s just the biggest thing for me is playing the game how I know how to play and how I’ve been playing my whole life. That’s what I got to get back to doing.”
But, of course, everyone picked up on that one word — coaching — because NFL fans, like Bravo fans, love messy drama. Fields addressed the media in the locker room when it opened to reporters later in the day to try to clear the air.
Bears QB Justin Fields is addressing the media again in the locker room. Wanted to make it clear he wasn’t blaming the coaches. “I can play better. Point blank.”
— Kevin Fishbain (@kfishbain) September 20, 2023
The big fear of the Bears trying to mold Fields into more of a pocket quarterback is he would lose what makes him special: his speed and running instincts. Two games into a “prove it” season for both him and the Bears, that fear has borne out.
With the Panthers’ first-round pick in his pocket, along with what looks to be a high pick of his own, Poles will get another crack at the top of the draft in 2024. Will he be drafting a quarterback? Maybe Fields walked by and heard Poles humming “Fight On!” and got a little jittery.
Seriously, you can see why Fields needs to not only take control of his narrative but also his football future. The team isn’t wedded to him and it’s not really helping him. But while the Bears have been ruining quarterbacks well before he was born, a lot of his issues are his issues.
It’s clear that he’s got a ways to go to be considered even a mid-tier quarterback, and it’s uncertain, some would surmise it’s unlikely, if he’ll ever reach that level. I was skeptical but open-minded about him going into the season and that’s still my mindset, though I’m leaning more toward the former. Fields needs time to develop, but will it happen in Chicago? Can it happen here?
It’s not just Fields, of course. We obsess about the quarterback in Chicago because it’s been the organization’s main stumbling block for generations. But, to paraphrase Fox again, there are more problems than just Fields.
— Mark Grote (@markgrotesports) September 20, 2023
No one is absolved from blame at Halas Hall, where a second-year regime feels like it’s a year away from being turned over once again.
As for the front office, well, Poles might be the second coming of Ryan Pace after all.
Last year, he traded what turned out to be the 32nd pick in the draft for Chase Claypool, who was so bad in the first game this season that pretty much every single person at Halas Hall admitted to talking to him about it, and Eberflus even hinted at not activating him last Sunday. Claypool caught a touchdown pass from Fields and even seemed to be trying to block some of the time. The Steelers, meanwhile, turned that draft pick into cornerback Joey Porter Jr.
In that draft, Poles passed up on Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter (he wasn’t alone) with his first-round pick. Of course, Carter looks like a 10-year problem for the rest of the league.
In related news, opposing offenses have converted 54.8 percent of third-down chances on the Bears. The defense has one sack and no takeaways. And, oh yeah, there’s no defensive coordinator. (Eberflus took over those duties last game.)
Otherwise, the Bears are doing just great, but only if you’re evaluating them as a reality show and not a football team. So catch them in another national late-afternoon Fox game this Sunday and tune in next week for the aftermath.
(Photo of Justin Fields: Armando L. Sanchez / Chicago Tribune / Tribune News Service via Getty Images)