Both on and off the field, the Chicago Bears’ horrendous start is testing the axiom that things can always be worse.
On Wednesday, defensive coordinator Alan Williams resigned, the team announced. Beginning his second season as Chicago’s defensive playcaller, Williams, 53, had not been with the team since last week because of a personal reason, the Bears said.
Reportedly, there was police activity at the Bears’ facility stemming from something involving Williams. But the Bears and Williams’ attorney dismissed a report as being inaccurate.
As for the turmoil on the field, let’s start where everything does in the NFL: with the quarterback.
Although it’s only Week 3, it wouldn’t be hyperbolic to suggest that Bears signal-caller Justin Fields is on shaky footing to remain the team’s starting quarterback much longer. Not only has Fields started all but two games during Chicago’s current 12-game losing streak – the longest skid in the history of a franchise founded in 1920 – he has also appeared to regress weekly.
After the Bears’ 27-17 loss in Week 2 to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Fields was excoriated by fans on social media for holding the ball too long and being sacked while Bears receivers went uncovered.
Then while speaking with reporters Wednesday, Fields suggested that the Bears’ coaches are at the root of his poor performance.
“You know, could be coaching, I think,” said Fields while exhibiting an alarming lack of self-awareness.
“At the end of the day, they are doing their job when they are giving me what to look at. But at the end of the day, I can’t be thinking about that when the game comes. I prepare myself throughout the week, and then when the game comes, it’s time to play free at that point. Thinking less and playing more.”
No one needed to tell Bears management that the optics weren’t good for Fields, who walked back his comments quickly later the same day.
“I’m not blaming anything on the coaches,” Fields said. “I’m never going to blame anything on coaches, never going to blame anything on my teammates. I will take every – whatever happens in a game – I will take all the blame. I don’t care if it’s a dropped pass and it should have been a [catch]. Put it on me.”
Well, that was better. Unfortunately for Fields, he continued, explaining, “when you’re fed a lot of information at a point and time and when you’re trying to think about that info when you’re playing, it doesn’t let you play like yourself. You’re trying to process so much information to where it’s like, you know, if I just simplify my mind.”
In other words, Fields believes Chicago’s coaches are overloading him with information, which has hurt his development. He returned to where he started.
For obvious reasons, franchises are reluctant to give up on 24-year-old quarterbacks whom they draft in the first round (the Bears selected Fields 11th overall in the 2021 draft). And with everything Fields is shouldering right now, it’s not shocking that he’s frustrated.
Unfortunately for Fields, the Bears began the season with high hopes for him, and the previous regime drafted Fields. The cold reality is that none of the Bears’ current top decision-makers put their reputations, and jobs potentially, on the line in hopes that Fields would become a star. If need be, that makes it easier for the Bears to move on from him.
Armed with significant draft capital and the most salary-cap space of any team by far, general manager Ryan Poles made a series of offseason moves in an effort to bolster the roster of a team that went 3-14 last season. Included among the transactions was the acquisition of talented wide receiver D.J. Moore, who was acquired along with four draft picks from the Carolina Panthers in exchange for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 draft (Carolina used the pick to select quarterback Bryce Young).
Having Moore on the field was supposed to help raise Fields’ level of play. It’s early, but so far there’s no evidence that has occurred.
From the outside at least, things are as bad as they seem, ESPN contributor Domonique Foxworth said.
“When you have 12 losses in a row, it feels like the pressure goes up even higher every game,” Foxworth said in a phone interview. “Until they get a win or he plays well, the pressure … he’s gotta be feeling a lot of pressure. And the Bears are one of those teams [that has a large national following].
“So while [the pressure] is really high in Chicago, he’s also in this national conversation that he wouldn’t be in [if he started] for many other teams. Also, for him, he has been successful for a long time [in college], so this is an unfamiliar place for him to be. You feel like you don’t have the answers. And you feel like your career is riding on the next couple of weeks.”
Against that backdrop, the Bears face the defending Super Bowl-champion Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium.
After a long contract holdout, Chiefs All-Pro defensive lineman Chris Jones is back with the team. Jones had a strong performance in Kansas City’s Week 2 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Bears will be without starting left tackle Braxton Jones, who has been placed on injured reserve with a neck injury.
Oh, almost forgot: Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes will be on the opposite sideline, putting more pressure on a struggling young passer to keep pace with the game’s best player.
With everything going wrong for the Bears, they need Fields to show significant progress. Soon. It’s really that simple, Foxworth said.
A struggling quarterback “really wears on the resiliency of the team, which is an important factor for a professional football team,” said Foxworth, a defensive back for six seasons in the NFL with the Denver Broncos, Atlanta Falcons and Baltimore Ravens. “A good quarterback, [teammates] believe in him.
“If he throws a bad pass, it’s not something that has an impact at all [on the team]. But if your quarterback is struggling, and he throws an inaccurate pass or has a turnover, you automatically go there, ‘Here we go again.’ It just drains the confidence out of a team. It really makes it harder to fight through the difficulties you’re inevitably gonna have.”
For a while now, the Bears have had nothing but difficulties. And if Fields doesn’t get things figured out soon, the road ahead for them may be even harder.