That’s the word Justin Fields chose during a self-assessment of his performance Sunday. He wanted to be even harsher.
“Straight up I just played like — I want to say the A-word but I’m not going to (say) that,” Fields said. “I just played like trash. I played terrible.
Immediately asked for details of where he faltered, Fields shook his head.
“A lot of things,” he said. “A lot of things. A lot of things. So, yeah.”
The Chicago Bears won Sunday, sneaking past the Houston Texans 23-20 thanks to a late Roquan Smith interception and a walk-off field goal by Cairo Santos. But for those focused primarily on Fields’ development as the truest indicator of the team’s 2022 growth, Sunday created significant anxiety.
Fields looked unsettled and out of sync for most of the afternoon. Absolutely nothing came easy. The passing game was broken again.
The Bears needed timely playmaking from the defense and their best rushing outing since the first term of the Reagan administration to edge one of the worst teams in the NFL on the final play of the day.
For Fields, it felt like one of the shoddiest starts of his career and maybe even qualified as a step backward. He went without a touchdown pass and threw two ugly interceptions. He was sacked five times and had only eight completions.
On 11 of 12 possessions, the Bears failed to complete multiple passes. Fields’ 27.7 passer rating was his fifth in 13 career starts below 75.
His frustration remained obvious after the game, particularly with the interceptions.
“That’s one of our keys to victory on offense — 100% point security,” Fields said.
Another key to victory will be to establish a passing attack that’s a consistent threat to defenses. Through three games, that hasn’t been the case.
Here’s your comprehensive Week 3 QB rewind.
The first of Fields’ two interceptions was ugly, a shot over the middle to tight end Cole Kmet that sailed directly to Texans safety Jalen Pitre.
“I just missed it,” Fields said. “Cole was wide open. Missed it.”
That was a first-read throw to an open receiver from a clean pocket and still turned into a turnover. The unforced inaccuracy was startling. That kind of misfire is entirely inexcusable.
If the Bears coaches already felt hesitant to give Fields more freedom and opportunity, that first-half pick seemed to spook them a bit — at least temporarily.
Fields did not throw another pass 5 yards beyond the line of scrimmage for the next 14 snaps.
On third-and-6 from deep in their territory in the second quarter, offensive coordinator Luke Getsy dialed up a run up the middle by rookie Trestan Ebner. That play gained 2 yards and the Bears punted.
On 14 third downs in the game, the Bears passed only four times. Fields was also sacked twice on third down and scrambled on passing plays two other times.
Fortunately for the Bears, their running game is really humming. Sunday’s 281-yard effort, which featured 7 yards per rush, provided a reliable flotation device. But at no point did the passing attack find a rhythm. The quest for even a small groove in that area rolls into October.
Fields was asked in the postgame news conference if there was anything from his performance that he could cling to and draw encouragement from. Even the most optimistic fans and analysts were struggling to answer that one.
“Just the way I fought,” Fields said. “Of course there were some bad plays. There were definitely more bad plays than good plays, at least from my point of view. But, yeah, the only positive I can take for me is that we got the win. Again, I’m going to continue to get better.”
Winning is always nice. A helpful deodorant, as former Bears coach Matt Nagy used to say. And it’s a tribute to the total team effort that the Bears had enough to grind out a win with their quarterback struggling as much as Fields did.
Fields revealed last week that he altered his preparation routine, waking up before 6 am throughout Week 3 to get in as much film study as possible. The immediate payoff for those extra hours wasn’t there Sunday.
Even worse, the Bears’ sloppiness was evident from the first play, a mishandled center-quarterback exchange between Sam Mustipher and Fields.
The Bears squeezed a 47-yard Santos field goal out of their opening possession, thanks mostly to the longest run of Fields’ career, a 29-yard scramble that carried the Bears from their 36 to the Texans 35. But much of that drive was rickety. After the fumble on the opening play, Fields’ first completion to a wide-open Byron Pringle came on a pass that was startlingly inaccurate.
A quick-hitter on the next snap to Darnell Mooney was batted down behind the line of scrimmage by cornerback Desmond King.
Late in the series, Fields stumbled when his feet tangled with David Montgomery’s during his drop-back. That play ended with a bad misfire to an open Equanimeous St. Brown.
That foreshadowed most of the afternoon as it related to Fields’ play. At some point soon, the correction process after these games has to become much less demanding.
Wait, isn’t this segment labeled “On the bright side”?
Even the easy plays aren’t easy right now for Fields and the Bears.
That quick-game first-down screen to Mooney in the slot to the left? Batted down.
A short swing pass to Ebner in the right flat? Way outside. Wild pitch. Incomplete.
Another basic pitch-and-catch to Mooney late in the first half? Dropped. Second-and-long.
If the early interception intended for Kmet was Fields’ worst moment, a runner-up candidate was his third-quarter throw to tight end Jake Tonges on a play-action rollout to the right. Tonges wasn’t the first read, but he was open 13 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. Fields threw way behind him.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Fields threw his second interception on a deep ball over the middle to Mooney. Fields recognized Cover-2 before the snap and had Mooney matched up with middle linebacker Christian Kirksey. It was a dream setup for a big play.
But pressure came up the middle with defensive tackle Maliek Collins knifing between Larry Borom and Lucas Patrick to clutter the pocket. Fields, who might have had an opportunity to let it fly a half-tick earlier, was hit as he threw.
“The ball just sailed too high,” he said.
Pitre easily had his second pick of the game.
“Next time on that play, take a check-down,” Fields said. “That’s one thing I’m going to work on this week. If I’m getting pressure, boom, take a check-down.”
Eberflus was brief with his assessment of that turnover a day later.
“He just has to handle the ball better,” he said. “He can’t put the ball in harm’s way. He knows that. On that particular play, he did.”
It’s a bit of a Bermuda Triangle for the Bears passing attack at the moment. The offensive line isn’t protecting all that well; the Bears allowed five sacks Sunday. The receiving corps has been incredibly underwhelming. The quarterback hasn’t played well. At all.
To that middle point, Pringle left the game with a right leg injury, officially announced as a calf issue. He left Soldier Field in a walking boot.
Rookie Velus Jones Jr. has missed the first three games with a nagging hamstring issue that limited him through much of the training camp. Dante Pettis made a game-changing 51-yard touchdown reception on a broken play in Week 1 but hasn’t caught a pass since. Mooney has all of four catches on 11 targets for 27 yards.
A growing faction of Bears fans is feeling uneasy that the coaching staff isn’t showing trust in Fields and the passing game. But to this point, what’s there to trust?
- Eberflus may have had his first significant game-management blunder late in the first half. Trailing 14-13, the Bears took possession at their 10-yard line with 1 minute, 4 seconds remaining and all three timeouts left. A 9-yard run by Khalil Herbert on the fourth play of that series moved the chains and pushed the ball out to the 28 with 40 seconds remaining. But rather than using a timeout to reset and make a bold push at scoring before halftime, the Bears let 27 seconds run off the clock, were slow getting a play in and ran and then, with less than 15 seconds to play, Fields was sacked . The time ran out. Boos rained down from the Soldier Field seats. Fans stared with palms up and bemused expressions wondering what in the world the philosophy was. After the game, Eberflus explained that the Bears were in a one-back, three-tight-end personnel grouping on the Herbert run and that after a Texans substitution, he needed to do a better job of getting back into a grouping with one back and one tight end. “I should have called timeout at 35 seconds and we would have been fine,” Eberflus said. “I have to be better in that situation right there.”
- The Bears’ longest gain of the season came on their first play of the second half, an impressive 52-yard run by Herbert through a hole the size of the Eisenhower Expressway. Fullback Khari Blasingame cleared Pitre out of the hole. Cody Whitehair and Teven Jenkins got to the second level for space-clearing blocks. All Herbert had to do was make one decisive cutback inside and dodge a tackle attempt from Jonathan Owens. It was all open field from there. Said Kmet: “We wanted to get back to our wide zone scheme there to start the half. And that presented really well and Khalil hit the hole hard. … Definitely got us going there.” Fields hit an easy 20-yard completion to Equanimeous St. Brown on the next play, and Herbert took over from there, eventually scoring on a 1-yard run to give the Bears a 20-17 lead.
- Fields’ 29-yard run, one of six tuck-and-run scrambles, was a showcase of his elusiveness and speed, a nifty escape from the Texans pass rush. But even that chunk of play deserved scrutiny. Fields had all day to throw and plenty of room in the pocket. From overhead, it appeared he had Pettis open down the field to his right. St. Brown, meanwhile, could have been targeted on a corner route to the same side. Fields did not pull the trigger and took off. The ability to make a play with his legs was notable and a big contribution to a scoring drive. But as the Bears push their young quarterback to become a consistently productive pocket passer, they will point to moments like that as instances where he has to be better, even on plays that end with a successful result.
- The Bears have been dominant in the running game through three games with an NFC-high 560 yards and 5.4 yards per rush, which ranks fourth in the league. The consistency has sparked confidence up front. And it was rewarding for the offensive line to return to the locker room after the game with a 281-yard rushing outing. “I don’t know if I’ve been part of an offense that’s rushed for that much my entire career,” guard Lucas Patrick said. “I felt like we were taking the line of scrimmage, putting a hat on a hat and just letting our runners be special.”