LAKE FOREST, Ill. – Darnell Mooney stayed on the Soldier Field grass long after the Bears' 23-20 Week 3 win over the Houston Texans went final. After a disappointing day for Mooney and the Bears' passing game, the star wide receiver went right to the JUGS machine to get in some work.
For Mooney, the postgame work was all about working through his early-season irritation.
"Just didn't like my performance. Had a dropped ball. I was just frustrated," Mooney said Wednesday at Halas Hall.
But it wasn't just the dropped pass on what should have been an easy completion that set Mooney off. He was pissed about how ineffective he was in a game the Bears' passing offense struggled to gain traction.
"Just not happy about my performance at all," Mooney said. "I had the opportunities, you know. Had the chances to make some type of play, and I just didn't be me.
"It was that, overall, and just not me being a big playmaker for the team," Mooney continued. "Offensively, I didn't think I helped out as much as I planned to and without Eddie and defense and Roquan on the last one, what did we really do? Beside running it. Running it was amazing. Just passing game-wise I was just frustrated, not being a playmaker I plan to be."
A lot has been made about quarterback Justin Fields' struggles through three games. The Bears' inability to get Mooney and tight end Cole Kmet involved in the passing game is a massive part of the passing game's struggles.
But Fields, Mooney, and Kmet must let the game come to them. Against the Texans, Fields felt there were several times where he was too set on trying to get Mooney the ball.
"We still have the connection," Fields said Wednesday of Mooney. "We're not gonna force it. I feel like, y'all talking about it—You know, I was staring him down a few too many times in the game. He probably told me that to: 'Bro, don't try to force anything; just let it all come.' That's what we're gonna do. When the time comes, that time will come."
On the season, Mooney has caught four passes for 27 yards. He has yet to find the end zone.
The Bears' passing game is ineffective on all fronts at the moment. Chicago ranks last in completions, completion percentage, yards, and passer rating. The Bears have allowed the fifth-most sacks.
Everyone from head coach Matt Eberflus to Fields, Mooney, and Kmet knows they must make changes. You can't win games in today's NFL with an inept passing attack.
"It needs to get better," Kmet said Monday. "There's no doubt about that. We need to do a better job, if I'm looking at our skill group, we need to do a better job of getting open and making plays and taking our end of the deal on that portion. And when I'm in protection doing a good job of giving protection — giving clean pockets and things like that.
"Obviously we just got to keep working. We have a bunch of guys that work hard and we're just going to keep working this in practice. That's what we gotta do."
Despite their early issues, the Bears don't seem shaken. They talked of opening up the playbook after a vanilla preseason but have been unable to find a rhythm and become an offense that defenses fear.
It's still early. The Bears have only played three games in offensive coordinator Luke Getsy's scheme. Progress will come.
But they can expedite it with changes to the aerial game plan.
"I'm a fan of, it's like, let's protect it up a little bit," former NFL QB and NBC Sports analyst Chris Simms told NBC Sports Chicago on how to help Fields and the passing game succeed. "Let's make them throw some one-on-one shots down the field. Let's let them throw a one-on-one, 20-yard comeback on the outside where it's clean. And you don't have to make the exact read in the exact right decision. And there's a little room for error and throwing the football there on that type of throw. I would like to see some screens. So just get the confidence go and to go, 'Hey, look, I got a play-action pass. Whoa, I'm one-for-one. Oh, I threw a screen to Darnell Mooney. I'm two-for-two for 45 yards. And, you know, I'm feeling good.'
"Like, I always say, like Steph Curry needs a layup every now and then. He can't just be expected to come out and hit 35 footers and swoosh them all the time. And I don't think they always do [Fields] justice that way to kind of get him going. So that would be the thing I would look at. But then I go back to, you know, I want to see more diversity in his running attack. That's where I think things can be very make things easier for the offensive coordinator and the offensive coaching staff in general, because once he starts doing that, you're going to start to see defenses where they're going to go, 'Excuse me?' They're going to go, 'Wow, we don't really want to play this.'"
The Bears will spend all week in the lab trying to find ways to unlock Fields, Mooney, Kmet, and the passing game.
Mooney searched for answers and a release after Sunday's game. Now, he has to be a significant part of the solution to the biggest issue facing the 2022 Bears.
If the Justin Fields-Darnell Mooney connection we expected to see entering the season doesn't arrive soon, the Bears' offense will be DOA.
They know that and won't stop until they fix what's broken in the passing game.
"We both know what we expect from ourselves," Fields said. "Just really get back to work like he did, right after the game he's on the jugs and right after the game, I'm watching the film. Just get back to work."