How the Chicago media saw it unfold
There were 2 minutes and 24 seconds remaining Sunday inside Raymond James Stadium. And somehow there was a sliver of hope, an opportunity to seize. After all that had gone wrong for the Chicago Bears throughout a hot and hectic afternoon - after the injuries and illness, the dropped interceptions, the missed sacks, the stalled drives - their offense had the ball with 2 minutes and 24 seconds left and the stage to perform some magic.
On the sideline, with his team trailing by only three points, Bears coach Matt Eberflus was preparing for the best. "I was thinking about, 'What if we score quickly?'" Eberflus said. "Then the defense has got to step up and make a big stop."
In the huddle, quarterback Justin Fields was locked in. "We practice 2-minute (drills) a lot during the week," Fields said. "And I was just going to keep the same mindset and get ready to drive the ball down the field to give the team a chance."
But can we really trust these Bears at this point to meet these moments? With their habitual clumsiness and a growing track record of failure in game-on-the-line situations, was it truly a big surprise that it took the Tampa Bay Buccaneers only 12 seconds to steal the football and seal the game with a defensive touchdown? Wasn't that a far more likely outcome than a 93-yard game-winning Bears TD march or a lengthy game-tying field goal drive?
Of course, the Bears tried a screen play from just outside their own end zone. And of course, it malfunctioned with Buccaneers outside linebacker Shaq Barrett peeling off his stunt and catching Fields' pass intended for Khalil Herbert at the 4-yard line. Of course the knockout punch in a 27-17 Bucs victory landed with Barrett barreling across the goal line and crushing the entire city of Chicago's soul just a little more.
"It's a rhythm and timing play," Eberflus said. "We've just got to make sure that's right."
It wasn't. "I didn't see every detail of the play," Fields said. "I saw Khalil open and then, I'm guessing (Barrett) just reacted. He felt screen and went back and picked it off. In that situation it's tough. If you call a deeper pass, you don't want to drop back into the end zone and have the potential to take a safety. It's a tough spot regarding play calls for Luke (Getsy) in that position. He went with his gut and (Barrett) ended up making a good play."
To be clear, Getsy tried calling something different on the first snap of that possession. But in that sequence, Barrett jumped the snap count and was offsides and penalized — a break for the Bears after Fields was wrestled by Barrett and Lavonte David into the back of the end zone and hurled a desperation free-play pass that was intercepted by Zyon McCollum.
On the next snap, the Bears dialed up a screen to the right to Herbert and gained 9 yards. But that was wiped away by an offensive pass interference foul against receiver Chase Claypool. Take 3. Good grief.
Let's be honest. Unfortunately, right now it's a huge ask for this Bears team to be dialed in on the details and crisp with the kind of execution it takes to make a bunch of game-winning plays. Instead, they flew out of Florida with an 0-2 record after a loss in which the defense had zero sacks and zero takeaways while giving up 437 yards, including 317 passing to Baker Mayfield and 171 receiving to Mike Evans.
The Bears returned home with an offense that had two turnovers and two other fumbles Sunday while allowing six sacks. "We have a long way to go," Fields acknowledged.
Receiver DJ Moore couldn't explain why the offense was unable to sustain the momentum from its 75-yard touchdown drive on their first possession. Safety Jaquan Brisker expressed frustration with the first-quarter interception he couldn't secure. Defensive end DeMarcus Walker couldn't believe the sack he had that Mayfield slipped out of to complete a pass.
"Those are things that win games," Eberflus said. "You seize those opportunities. We need to do a good job of seizing opportunities when we create those."
Alas, the Bears' losing skid hit 12. Twelve consecutive defeats. Three-hundred-twenty-eight days - and counting - since they last won a regular season football game.
"It's been a long time," Brisker said. "But this is a new year. We've got a lot of new faces, a lot of additions. We can't really dwell on last year. This is a new team. And we've got to keep moving forward and try to find a way to win. And we will."
Still, even for the newcomers around here, this feels heavy.
"It's heavy because guys want to change this," Walker said. "That's a good thing. And guys in here are trying to figure it out. That's the first step you need to take."
Unfortunately, it's the first step in what feels like a 100-flight climb.
"I see improvement," Eberflus said. "I do. This was definitely better (than Week 1). I see guys fighting. I see us executing at a better clip. And it's a long season. To me, we just have to keep doing that and good things are going to happen."
The timetable for "eventually," though, seems really, really hard to pin down. It's hard to believe the Bears are still doing this, isn't it? Still stuck in this continual cycle of collapse?
Is this the spot where we also mention safety Eddie Jackson left Sunday's game in the first quarter with a foot injury while receiver Darnell Mooney was lost in the second half with a knee issue?
Is this where we drop in a reminder that defensive coordinator Alan Williams remains separated from the team with what the Bears have labeled a personal issue and that his boss declined to clarify a possible timetable for his return while also not promising to give Williams his play-calling duties back if and when he does return? "We'll cross that bridge when we get there," Eberflus said.
Right now it feels like every bridge the Bears try to cross is raggedy and unstable with fraying ropes on the sides and countless broken boards from end to end. Perhaps more unfortunately, their next stop is Kansas City. Arrowhead Stadium. For a Week 3 date with the reigning Super Bowl champion Chiefs. Logic points to next weekend's game as a possible name-your-score scrimmage for Patrick Mahomes and Co. with Andy Reid manning the mercy controls.
With every loss like Sunday's, the recovery process seems to come with a higher degree of difficulty. "We're going through a storm right now," Fields said.
The Bears quarterback also understands his responsibilities in helping steer the team through it. "In this position," Fields said, "you can do one of two things and that's either lay down — just kind of throw in the towel and say whatever. But I don't think anybody on the team is like that. And it's my job, it's the coaches' job to keep everybody going and keep everybody's morale up. It is a long season. But, I mean, we definitely have a lot to fix."
To those last points, Fields is on the mark. It is a long season. The biggest question now, though, is how long the Bears can embrace that with hopeful sentiments.
Dan Wiederer, The Chicago Tribune, published 18 September 2023