TAMPA — It took exactly three minutes and two seconds for the Chicago Bears to look completely overmatched in all three phases.
And nothing that transpired in the remaining 56 minutes and 57 seconds looked any different as Tom Brady’s Buccaneers slaughtered the Bears 38-3 Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.
The coin toss was the only victory for the Bears — moral or actual. It was all downhill from there.
After electing to take the football, the Bears immediately went three-and-out. They then allowed a 43-yard punt return and, on the very next play, cornerback Kindle Vildor committed a pass interference penalty. Two plays later, Leonard Fournette crossed the goal line to put the Bucs up 7-0.
“You hate to get the ball, go three-and-out and give up that big punt return,” Bears head coach Matt Nagy said. “But that’s what happened and we’ve got to recover from it.”
They didn’t recover. Brady made sure of that with his four touchdown passes. The Bears responded by kicking a field goal on fourth down at the 10-yard-line to account for their scoring on the day.
If we’re being honest, the Bears have a number of issues that stretch well beyond the embarrassment in Tampa. For one, they’re in the middle of a COVID-19 breakout that directly impacted Sunday’s game. Not only did they play the game without pass rusher Robert Quinn and tight end Jimmy Graham — who are both on the reserve/COVID-19 list — they lost right tackle Elijah Wilkinson just hours before kickoff. Wilkinson, who is unvaccinated, and special teamer Caleb Johnson were both placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list Sunday while in Tampa. For Wilkinson, it’s his second stint on the COVID list this season after he was deemed a close contact in August. The move forced seldom used second-year offensive tackle Lachavious Simmons into a surprise start, and he struggled — to put it lightly. After allowing two strip-sacks on Justin Fields in the first half, Simmons was replaced by Alex Bars for the rest of the game.
Of course, it’s not like Wilkinson was the difference in this latest wake-up call for the entire Chicago Bears organization. It’s one thing to have a rookie quarterback facing the greatest quarterback all time, but it’s another when you compare the Bucs’ weapons to the Bears’ weapons. The Bears’ pass-catchers are rarely wide open or making plays for Fields, while Brady threw three touchdowns to Mike Evans and another to Chris Godwin. The talent disparity is even more jarring when you consider Antonio Brown and Rob Gronkowski didn't even play in the game.
And then, of course, there’s the whole issue with the offensive line and offensive scheme — neither of which are good. Fields really isn’t being placed in a position to have success. He finished with three fumbles (two lost) and three interceptions — one that went right through Darnell Mooney’s hands.
“No matter how many picks I throw, no matter how many Ls we take, I’m gonna keep going. That’s just the fact. And that’s just who I am. Never gonna stop,” Fields said.
At least the rookie’s determination isn’t a concern. Unfortunately, his development — or lack thereof — is right now. He’s not getting much help, but at least some blame has to go to the quarterback when he fumbles three times and throws three interceptions.
Shockingly, for the second straight week, Fields threw an interception when he thought he had a free play.
“In the headset they were telling me (the Bucs) had 12 men on the field, so I was trying to snap the ball quick,” Fields said. “And then me snapping the ball quick, I think it caught our receivers off guard, because we were trying to get a flag, so me thinking that we had 12 men on the field, that’s a free play. So I’m thinking, ‘All right, scramble around and stuff like that. And then, of course, I see A-Rob downfield and I think he slips and of course the pick. I mean, that’s just trying to get 12 people on the field, and then it just went bad from there.”
There was a Bucs lineman running off the field on the play, but he clearly got off in time and the quarterback has to realize that. Frankly, such a play happening two weeks in a row — when it was emphasized in meetings this past week — is a problem.
The Bears’ response this week will be interesting. The last week was full of distractions and social media gaffes from players, so you have to wonder what might happen this week after a blowout. Nagy has managed to keep the locker room together during previous low points, but those low points are starting to stack up.
Sunday’s list of embarrassing moments included defensive tackle Bilal Nichols getting ejected for punching Bucs center Ryan Jensen in the helmet, which is never an intelligent decision. From the Bucs’ first offensive series of the game, it was obvious they were trying to sucker the Bears’ defense into a penalty after the whistle. They’ve seen the tape and know the Bears will take the bait. Sure enough, Nichols eventually did.
Nichols’ ejection marked the fifth time a player was disqualified in Nagy’s four seasons as head coach and the third time in two seasons it happened because one of his players punched someone in the helmet.
“Our guys understand, they know that every action has a reaction,” Nagy said. “What we need to do is continue to keep emphasizing it like we are, and guys gotta follow up by not falling into that trap.”
When former wide receiver Anthony Miller committed the same infraction in last year’s playoff game against the Saints, Bears chairman George McCaskey publicly voiced his displeasure. The fact that it happened again under Nagy’s watch should matter.
And it does matter. Just like the piling distractions matter. And the COVID breakout. And the latest embarrassment on national television.
The 49ers, Steelers and Ravens are on deck, folks. And the Steelers game is on Monday Night Football. Get your popcorn ready.
Nagy said all he needed to say when he opted to punt the football inside Buccaneers territory while trailing 38-3 in the fourth quarter. He waved the white flag and any Bears fans remaining inside Raymond James Stadium hung their heads and walked out.
Now at 3-4, the Bears have 10 games remaining — and a lot can still happen. That’s either a good thing or a really bad thing. Sunday’s loss was Nagy’s worst as the Bears’ head coach and it was likely Fields’ worst loss of his life.
For Nagy, he has to hope this is rock bottom. He can’t afford many more games like the disaster in Cleveland or the embarrassment in Tampa.
There’s too much at stake. Most importantly, Justin Fields.