Seeing it from the Bears' perspective
Perhaps the most depressing thing for the Chicago Bears is that much of the football world saw this disaster coming. And then it happened for all to see in all its gory detail.
Sunday's 38-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium fell into many categories. Lopsided, for one. It was the biggest blowout defeat for the Bears since an infamous 55-14 loss to the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field seven years ago.
Ugly? Yep, that description fits, too, after rookie quarterback Justin Fields turned the ball over five times and Bucs star Tom Brady fired four touchdown passes in one of the breeziest victories of his career.
Bears linebacker Roquan Smith even called the defeat "embarrassing," which probably was a generous adjective to pick. And Fields admitted he had no idea what emotions were bubbling inside as his football career hit an unfamiliar low point. "I've never been in this position where I'm losing," he said. "So I don't know how to feel."
OK. Add confusing to the list. But surprising? Nah. Sunday's blowout wasn't astounding in the least. Not with the Bears' constipated offense attempting to keep pace with a far superior unit but falling behind by 32 points before halftime.
Not with the Buccaneers looking every bit capable of winning a second consecutive Super Bowl and Brady throwing for more touchdown passes in the first half than the Bears have all season. Not with Bears coach Matt Nagy still searching high and low for any kind of spark to get his squad into a respectable groove yet not finding a way to get his offense into the end zone even once.
Perhaps fittingly, the final fizzle in Sunday's dud was a 4-yard check-down pass from Fields to backup running back Ryan Nall. With the Bears down by 35 points and at the Buccaneers 29. Why not, right? Thus the Bears fell to 3-4, felt an ugly kind of humiliation and left Florida vowing not to come completely unraveled. "This isn't the result we wanted," Nagy said, "but let's make this count as one loss and not four."
Admirable goal. Added Fields: "At the end of the day, it happened. We have bad days. Y'all have bad days. And y'all can either get depressed or you can get up the next day and go to work. I think that's what our team is going to do. That's what I'm going to do. I'm not angry at all. (Stuff) happens."
Honestly, Sunday's performance didn't reveal all that much. It simply confirmed what much of the NFL world has suspected all along, that the Bears remain cemented in mediocrity and have proved incapable of consistently hanging with top-tier teams. They have played three of the NFC's top four favorites to win this season and lost to the Buccaneers, Packers and Los Angeles Rams by a combined score of 96-31. A home game with the unbeaten Arizona Cardinals is six weeks away. Yikes.
For Nagy, this was his worst loss in four seasons as a head coach, both in margin of defeat and in the ineptitude of the whole thing. "It was a tough one," Nagy said. "You go into this game and you're facing a pretty good football team on the road with a great quarterback. In these instances, you have to be close to damn near perfect."
The Bears, not surprisingly, weren't perfect. Far from it. They won the coin flip and opted to take the ball first. So there was that. "Trying to get a fast start," Nagy said.
Instead, the offense went three-and-out, the punt team allowed a 43-yard return to Jaelon Darden and the defense surrendered a 32-yard touchdown drive on a pass interference penalty followed by two Leonard Fournette runs. Bing. Bang. Boom.
That was one of five first-half possessions the Buccaneers began inside Bears territory. They turned those into four touchdowns and a missed field goal and led for the final 56 minutes, 58 seconds. "It's just about flushing this," Smith said, "and growing from it. Learning from our mistakes and just getting better."
Flush was a popular and apt verb choice by Bears players Sunday evening. But that's becoming all too common of a task. A plunger may be needed soon. In 2014, you may recall, the bottom dropped out of the Bears season when they were embarrassed badly in consecutive weeks by Brady and Aaron Rodgers. Even with seven games remaining that season — and somehow the Bears won their next two — everyone knew it was coming apart.
Sorry, folks, if it seems like this current stretch may be carrying a tinge of déjà vu. Rodgers reminded Bears fans in Week 6 that he still owns their favorite team. Brady followed Sunday by yawning his way to those four touchdown passes.
Now it's suddenly fair to ask whether this season went into free fall in the final seconds of the first half when Brady fired an 8-yard touchdown strike to Mike Evans on third-and-goal to put the game way, way, way out of reach. The Bucs led 35-3 at that point. And given the Bears have scored only 37 points in their last three games combined, it was a safe bet a comeback wasn't coming.
In fact, despite trailing by such a huge margin, the Bears didn't even score in garbage time and somehow failed to top 200 net passing yards for the seventh consecutive game.
Against the blitz-happy Buccaneers defense, Fields fumbled three times (and lost two), threw three interceptions and was sacked four times. "It's not just one thing. It's a bunch of things," Fields said. "I'm just going to leave it at that. We've got to continue to work. At times like this, when you get blown out, you have two choices. You can either say, 'F it, I'm going to stop working. I'm going to stop playing.' Or you can go the other route and say, 'I'm going to keep working.' "
Still, it's difficult to see the 2021 Bears bouncing back from this skid in any significant fashion. Sunday's loss was that humiliating, another reminder of how far this franchise is from championship contention. The bigger questions now seem to be a) whether the top decision makers at Halas Hall recognize how wayward things are and b) what their plans are to assess and rectify things.
Nagy acknowledged a loss as bad as this has the potential to capsize the entire boat. But he also expressed confidence his coaches and players will return to work in Week 8 united and determined to continue their repair work.
"I will say the last couple days with our team, we've become really close," Nagy said. "For us to become as close as we have these last 24 to 48 hours, I trust and believe in them. … We lost and we have to learn from it. Our guys have rebounded before in the past. And I just know from our discussion in (the locker room) after the game where we're at right now as fighters and people and teammates."
Suffice it to say most of Chicago won't take a whole lot of solace from the suggestion that their stumbling football team is trying to brush past a 35-point loss with expressions of heartening togetherness. Bears fans already learned in 2019 and again in 2020 that the locker room is full of players who won't point fingers or create melodrama during weeks-long losing streaks. Cool.
What they want now is to have a team that wins more regularly. And scores more points. And isn't so consistently exposed as inept against the league's best teams. From the looks of things, though, that wish isn't likely to be granted in 2021. And again, it doesn't feel all that surprising. And if it's not, then what?
Dan Wiederer, The Chicago Tribune, published 25 October 2021