It’s 4th-and-1 at the Minnesota Vikings’ 21-yard line. Wide receiver Darnell Mooney lines up in the backfield by himself, but only after some confusion because he didn’t hear his assignment in the huddle. The Chicago Bears’ best offensive player, running back David Montgomery, is standing on the sideline for some reason.
Quarterback Justin Fields quick-snaps the ball and fakes a handoff to no one. He then boots to the short side of the field, but when he gets his head around, he immediately sees five purple jerseys, none of which bit on the fake handoff to no one. The first read is Mooney in the flat, but the Vikings are in Cover-2 and the corner has the flat covered, as Fields explains it.
So the quarterback looks to the corner, which is also covered at first. That’s when Mooney flashes open, but Fields doesn’t see it because he’s now looking at his third read, the over-route. By the time he comes back to Mooney, it’s too late. Sack.
Your 2021 Chicago Bears, everyone.
“They just carded it well. I mean, we called the play and they played a good defense. It’s that simple,” Fields said.
By “carded it well,” Fields is referring to the scout team cards the opponent puts together during the week. The Vikings were prepared to call the perfect defense against an imperfect play call and design.
And yet, it was still a learning moment that Fields acknowledged right away. Next time, he said, he’ll skip the third read and just read the play low-high-low to pull the corner off the flat. By simply looking off the corner, his eyes would’ve been back on Mooney when the receiver came open.
This wasn’t necessarily a rookie mistake for Fields. He was just following his reads. But his lack of experience prevented him from improvising to make a bad play call work.
Unfortunately, there are too many bad offensive calls that Fields must deal with. The offense, like many aspects of the Bears’ organization, is directionless. The system has done very little to incubate its rookie quarterback. And the players around Fields, whether it's the suspect offensive line or drop-happy pass catchers, have done very little to help him.
And yet, there have also been many rookie mistakes. There were quite a few in Monday’s 17-9 loss to the Vikings, actually. But somewhere in between the rookie mistakes and the countless fair excuses for his struggles is the reality that Justin Fields’ rookie season has not gone as it should.
And that’s a startling reality the Bears, at the very highest levels of the organization, must accept and address as soon as possible.
This is a player the Bears never should have been able to land with the No. 20 overall pick they held. This is a player who probably should have been NFL Rookie of the Year in the right situation. This is a player who is not making the progress he should be making.
Can the Bears screw this up? Yes, they most certainly can. The scarier question is whether or not that is already happening.
Again, Fields is not without blame. His first quarter fumble killed a promising drive. He took many sacks when he could have thrown the ball away. And he admitted he and David Montgomery didn’t rep a route in practice that ended up going incomplete and stopping a drive.
And yet, he also put numerous passes right on the hands of his receivers and they dropped them. Jimmy Graham dropped a touchdown that resulted in zero points. Damiere Byrd dropped a fourth down conversion. Darnell Mooney’s lack of go-up-and-get-it ability left the Bears without points when he was ruled out of bounds.
Of course Fields is struggling. Why wouldn’t he struggle in a flawed offense with flawed players in a flawed organization? Don’t you think he’d look a lot different in New England right now?
Meanwhile, Fields is too often left to fight for himself after taking another beating. It started in Cleveland in Week 3 when none of his offensive linemen picked him up after a sack. For some reason, he can’t buy a roughing the passer call, only earning one after he literally kneeled down and still got walloped. So excuse rookie left tackle Teven Jenkins for coming to his quarterback’s defense when he took an unnecessary, but probably still legal shot near the sideline. Someone had to finally do it. Jenkins then got sucker punched and retaliated, which of course drew the only flag on the play. Right tackle Germain Ifedi, who didn’t come to his quarterback’s defense, then went after Jenkins.
“I told (Teven) I liked what he did there and I appreciate him,” Fields said. “At the same time, he’s gotta be smart. But I mean, I definitely love the mindset and I love him sticking up for me. I think that’s what we need more of. I love it, but just do it between the whistle.”
The Bears definitely need more of that on offense — fight. The Bears’ defense had plenty of it Monday night despite missing its entire starting secondary. They forced six three-and-outs on 12 drives.
The offense lacks fight. It needs more players like Teven Jenkins and less like Germain Ifedi, who only reacted when his teammate drew a flag.
All of this reflects poorly on the head coach, of course, and Matt Nagy appears to be accepting his fate
“It starts with me and it ends with me,” Nagy said. “I accept complete responsibility for that and I think that’s important to understand. You learn a lot through this process.”
Bears fans can only hope the organization has learned that it can’t go on this way and expect Fields to reach his insane potential as an NFL quarterback. It’s not a coincidence that over 100 years of football has failed to produce a legitimate franchise quarterback. It’s the sad result of a directionless organization.
That direction must be found. Or else they’re going to screw up the best opportunity they’ve ever had at the most important position in sports.