Despite the Chicago Bears’ 29-27 loss and their (3-6) record, it’s hard to feel too bad about Monday night’s outcome. Yes, it was a sloppy performance. Yes, the Bears were not only playing against the Pittsburgh Steelers but also a terrible officiating crew. Even so, rookie quarterback Justin Fields had the best performance of his young career. More importantly, it came on a national stage in the bright lights of Monday Night Football.
Losing is never fun, but it also feels a lot better knowing that the team’s future is bright because of their young quarterback. So what now? We’ll cover all of that and more in Week 9’s 10 takes.
1. Justin Fields’ performance on Monday Night Football is something fans can hold onto deep into the upcoming offseason.
Justin Fields aired it out all night, averaging 15.6 air yards per attempt (2nd-most by any QB in a game this season).— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 9, 2021
His 7 completions on balls 15+ yards downfield are tied for the most by a Bears QB over the past 15 seasons. pic.twitter.com/PslBNt2D9a
Considering the Bears have had back-to-back high first round picks starting at the quarterback position over the past five years, it’s easy to see good signs when they present themselves. That’s exactly what happened for their rookie quarterback on Monday night.
For the majority of the game, Fields was outstanding. One could even argue he was the best player on the field for long stretches of it. Especially when you consider how many offensive penalties the team had and had chaotic this offense has been for the better part of three years now. The rookie finished the game (17/29) with 291 yards passing, a touchdown and about the unluckiest interception you’ll ever see. He also added 45 yards on the ground. This was a career high in both passing yards and total yards for the rookie quarterback.
Over his past two games, Fields has 614 total yards and three touchdowns. He’s also playing his best in the biggest moments. The biggest moment of his young career came with the Bears down six points with just 2:52 left in the game. The former 11th overall pick marched the team 75 yards down the field and took the lead. All in just a minute and six seconds. Fields accounted for all 75 yards on the drive. Not to down Mitchell Trubisky, but when was the last time we saw a young Bears quarterback play his best at the biggest moment in a prime time game?
As I’ve noted all year, patience is key when watching a young quarterback develop. It’s never smart to overreact to any one game (good or bad). With that being said, Fields has now put together back-to-back good performances and he’s doing all of that in what could be argued as the worst situation of any of the five first round rookie quarterbacks. There will still be ups and downs over the final eight games of the season, but Bears fans should feel really good about this team’s future with Fields under center. Monday night just furthered that feeling.
2. Despite talking about not allowing the 38-3 loss in Tampa Bay to turn into three or four loses, the Bears are once again on a four game losing streak for the third time in three seasons.
It’s almost like head coach Matt Nagy knew what was ahead in the coming weeks, huh? Coming into the season, the Bears had one of the more difficult projected schedules in the league. Despite their (3-2) start, it never felt like it would last and for good reason.
The Bears lack depth and more importantly, overall talent. That has shown up in a big way over the past few weeks. Whether it’s been injuries and not being able to overcome them or the clear talent gap between themselves and top-tier teams, it’s clear where this season is headed.
In some ways, it’s hard not to feel for Nagy and his staff. In other ways, it’s hard not to feel a sense of frustration with them. Far too often they look unprepared, undisciplined and simply outmatched. As I noted last night, the Bears biggest issue is coaching. Repeated mistakes and a broken record of results can only come back to one common denominator and it’s becoming very clear what that is.
3. In many ways, it feels like Monday night’s loss sealed Nagy’s fate this offseason.
The difference between a win and loss on Monday night was big for this team. It was the difference between a (4-5) start and the reality of a (3-6) record heading into the bye week. It was also the difference in remaining in the Wild Card race and being on the outside looking in with the third worst record in the NFC.
More importantly for Nagy and his staff, this was a game that could very well be the different from a final record close to .500 and saving their jobs, versus a a five to six win team. Considering how much George McCaskey and Ted Phillips talked about “progress” in their January press conference, it’s hard to see how a six win season could be perceived as anything except a failure.
Every game creates a clearer picture for the Bears’ upcoming season. The bigger question still remains — Will general manager be able to convince ownership into a third head coach or will he be out the door as well?
4. It was a good night for multiple young Bears players outside of Fields.
All of the headlines surrounding the Bears after Monday night’s game are about Fields and justifiably so. With that being said, they had a couple of young players that showed out well in last night’s game.
- Tight End Cole Kmet
- Linebacker Roquan Smith
- Right tackle Larry Borom
- Receiver Darnell Mooney
For the third time this year, Kmet led the team in receiving. While that’s not an overly impressive feat considering the struggles of this offense, the second year tight end had the biggest game of his career, totaling six catches for 87 yards and a few nice plays as a blocker. Smith was all over the place, leading the team in tackles (12) and also added two tackles for loss and a sack of his. Borom did a quality job against one of the best edge rushers in the league and has settled in nicely at right tackle. Especially considering he missed the majority of this year (so far) with a high ankle sprain. Finally, Mooney added a pair of touchdowns. Those included a 15 yard run and what was the game winning touchdown catch, before the Steelers won it with a field goal in the final minute of the game. Players like Jaylon Johnson and Khalil Herbert have also flashed plenty this year.
All in all, this is a much needed development for the Bears because make no mistake- There’s going to be plenty of turnover in the coming offseason, as this team looks to get back into contention.
5. I’m not sure what has happened to this defense, but it’s going to be hard to win games if they keep giving up 24 or more points per game.
I’m not sure I would classify Week 7’s 24-14 loss to the Green Bay Packers as a “bad” performance for this defense. Since that point, they’ve given up 38, 33 and 29 point games in three consecutive weeks. This unit also has just 1 forced turnover in that time and has just four sacks (all on Monday night).
Simply put, they aren’t making plays. They have also collapsed late in games the past two weeks, which is not a good sign. As a whole, I have liked what defensive coordinator Sean Desai has done, but the lack of talent and depth has shown. I hate to say it, but this is more like the defense I expected to see from the start.
6. Speaking of the defense, the re-emergence of Robert Quinn has been something to behold, especially when considering he’s likely around for the 2022 season.
It hasn’t been all bad on the defensive side of the ball. Their two highly paid veteran pass rushers have shown up in big ways, especially Quinn. The 31-year-old has a team-leading (6.5) sacks in eight games played this season. He was also involved in two of the team’s four sacks on Monday night.
Considering the Bears converted a decent portion of his 2021 base salary into a signing bonus, the likelihood of Quinn returning in 2022 is very high. The team would save just $4.425 million with a pre-June 1st cut, but at this point why would you cut a player that is highly likely to have another 10 sack season?
It’ll be interesting to see what the team’s pass rush looks like once Khalil Mack returns. If Mack is healthy and Quinn can remain healthy, maybe they can help lead the defense back to respectability over the second half of the season. This is also something that they should feel confident about transferring over into 2022.
7. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen such a poorly officiated game, but man, oh man... That was a really tough look for NFL officiating.
The national reaction to last night’s officiating speaks for itself. I counted a total of seven “questionable” calls that went against the Bears, with a few more than could have easily have fallen into that category. While I’m never one to blame the officials for a team’s win or loss, it’s hard not to feel like the Bears weren’t playing against two teams last night, with one of those being the officials.
Regardless, the NFL needs to start holding these crews more accountable. Simply not allowing them to call playoff games isn’t good enough. Especially when we are seeing more and more of these types of games across the league. Oh and also- The NFL needs to take a long look at the taunting focus this offseason. This remains a ridiculously stupid point of focus in an emotional sport like football.
8. Speaking of young quarterbacks, I figured I would share some of my thoughts about Green Bay Packers’ quarterback Jordan Love’s first start.
I’m sure I was one of many non-Packers fans that were somewhat invested in Sunday afternoon’s matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs. After a wild week in which quarterback Aaron Rodgers was caught lying about being vaccinated, testing positive for COVID and embarrassing himself on the Pat McAfee show, the Packers 2020 first round pick was gifted his first start against one of the league’s worst defenses. Despite that, the Packers put up just seven points (scored late in the fourth quarter) and ended up losing by a 13-7 score.
Wins aren’t a quarterback statistic, but it’s also impossible to argue against the notion that with Rodgers, the Packers win that game without much of an issue.
Here’s Jordan Love’s passing chart from his first NFL start: pic.twitter.com/3g4BA36I32— Daire Carragher (@DaireCarragher) November 8, 2021
In Love’s first start, he finished the game (19/34) with 190 passing yards, a touchdown and an interception. He also added 23 rushing yards onto that line as well. On the day, Love completed just four of his 11 attempts beyond 10 yards through the air. The rest of his 15 completions all came within five yards or less of the line of scrimmage.
What was a little more surprising to me was that despite sitting for the first year and a half of his career, he looked like a rookie making his first start. Yes, I understand it was his first career start, but isn’t the entire point of sitting on the bench for a year (or more), to be able to come out and not look like a rookie? Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all bad for Love, but I also can’t imagine this one start did anything to quell the Packers concerns of like without Rodgers.
It’s also worth noting that you never want to make any sweeping judgements about one start (See: This 1st round rookie quarterback class). Regardless of how many starts a quarterback has had or how young they are into their NFL career. With that being said, here were some of my observations in Love’s first start.
- Love’s arm talent and athleticism are there. While that was never in question, he quickly showed that teams will have to respect his ability to run. They’ll also have to respect his ability to eventually challenge downfield.
- His pocket presence was better than I had expected. Especially considering how many blitzes the Chiefs sent at him on the day. His spatial awareness wasn’t the best, but it was also quite impressive for a quarterback making his first start.
- Love was slow to process. I guess this isn’t some shocking develop considering what type of offense he came from at Utah State, but this is one area where you’d expect sitting to help a quarterback and it didn’t.
- Speaking of processing, Love rarely got through his progressions or past his first and second reads. I don’t know how many times I counted him locking on to one player and then taking off or forcing a throw if the receiver wasn’t open.
- Poor decision making. It’s always interesting to watch a quarterback like Love (who got away with about three near interceptions) and then watch a player like Fields (who had an batted pass at the line turn into an interception by the same defensive lineman). Love’s decision making was questionable almost the entire game. Not only did he gets away with multiple passes that should have been intercepted, some of his bad decisions ended up going for catches. The one that stuck out to me was that throw across his body to Randall Cobb.
- Ball placement/overall accuracy needs a lot of work. Comedian Ron White once said “That boy’s got a lot of quit in him”. Well, this man has a lot of Trubisky in him. Ball placement was a consistent issue for him and his accuracy came and went multiple times as well. Again, these are things that are somewhat expected for young quarterbacks, but it’s also something that isn’t guaranteed to go away over time.
I wouldn’t say Love had an “awful” game by any means, but he sure wasn’t “good” either. He’s a young quarterback and patience is needed. That’s why I refuse to make any rash judgement calls on him after one start. With that being said, there was many more concerning signs than there were positives. Especially when you consider how much time he has spent on the bench since being drafted last April. If I were the Packers, I’d be finding a way to get him another start or two before the end of this season. Because as of now, I don’t know how anybody in that building could be comfortable allowing Rodgers to walk and expect Love to step in without a massive drop off.
9. Zooming out on the NFC, it’s hard to find a lot of truly good teams. The same could be said about the NFC North, outside of the Packers.
Nine of the 16 teams in the NFC have records under .500. If the season ended today, the (4-4) Atlanta Falcons would hold the seventh and final wild card spot. In some ways, that looks pretty familiar to last year when the Bears lost their Week 17 game and still found a way into the playoffs at (8-8). Considering a (10-6) AFC missed the playoffs last year, that’s not ideal.
If I had to rank the Top 5 teams in the NFC right now, here’s how I’d have it:
Looking at the NFC North, they are contending for the worst division in the NFL. Not only do they have an (0-8) Detroit Lions team taking up the cellar, they don’t have another team over .500 within the division outside of the Packers. The Minnesota Vikings have been one of the weirdest teams to watch this year. They’ve taken top-end teams like the Cardinals and Baltimore Ravens down to the wire in loses but also won on last-second happenings against the Lions and Carolina Panthers. All but one of their first eight games has been decided by one score or less.
This is an unfortunate year for the Bears to be having such a tough season. Then again, the last thing this team needs is for a mediocre eight win campaign to win them the seventh seed and a first round playoff exit to save jobs again.
10. Enjoy the bye week because the Bears schedule coming out of Week 10 doesn’t get much easier.
Outside of adding a win on to Fields’ performance from last night, I’m not sure there’s a better way the Bears could have gone into their bye week. The problem? Nagy is (0-3) coming out of bye weeks and they’ll have to face the Baltimore Ravens in Week 11.
Here’s a look at the Bears remaining eight games: Vs Baltimore Ravens, At Detroit Lions, Vs Arizona Cardinals, At Green Bay Packers, Vs Minnesota Vikings, At Seattle Seahawks, Vs New York Giants and At Minnesota Vikings.
By my count, that’s three games against top-tier teams, three toss-ups and two very winnable games. So where do the Bears end up falling in all of that? Well, I’ll project that they lose all three tough games, win both winnable games and then split against the Vikings and lose on the road against the Seahawks. Which leaves them at (6-11), but it’s easy to see how this team could still pull of my original projection of (7-10) too. Either way, buckle up and try to enjoy the next eight games because it’s going to be a very active off-season starting in January.