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The Bears' loss to the Bucs was bad. The position in which Matt Nagy put Justin Fields was worse.

·Columnist
·5 min read
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After Chicago’s embarrassing 38-3 loss to Tampa Bay, Bears coach Matt Nagy discussed the challenges of a new quarterback playing in a big game.

“Early on it's just important with a young, rookie quarterback … to get off to a fast start and get some confidence and some momentum going,” Nagy said.

Sure. Good plays can beget good plays. Comfort creates production. In the same vein, just one mistake can rattle a rookie into a dreadful performance, such as Justin Fields’ three-interception, two-fumble debacle on Sunday.

Except Nagy said what he said without a hint of self-awareness. He spent most of his postgame media conference painting he and his coaching staff – “teachers” he even dubbed them at one point – as helpless prisoners of Fields’ inexperience.

“It’s making sure his eyes go where our eyes are going … we’re trying to make him comfortable and feel good with what we do schematically … we have to continue to stay patient …”

Yet Nagy did little to acknowledge the coaching error that led to Fields’ first interception, the one that all but eliminated any kind of “fast start” or “confidence” or “momentum.”

That one came on third-and-5, midway through the first quarter. That’s when Fields was told through his headset that Tampa had 12 defenders on the field. Fields immediately called for the snap, hoping to catch Tampa Bay in a penalty that would allow him a risk-free shot down the field.

“We have a free play,” Fields said he thought. “So I was trying to snap the ball quick. Me snapping the ball quick, I think it caught our receivers off-guard.”

The play was a mess, with protection quickly breaking down. That caused Fields to stumble and then scramble. Still believing the Bears had 5 yards and a first down in the bag, he gambled and threw deep only to have his receiver fall down. The ball wound up intercepted by the Bucs' Dee Delaney.

Whatever. First-and-10, right?

Bears quarterback Justin Fields had five turnovers in an ugly loss Sunday, but his coach Matt Nagy didn't exactly help him out, either during the game or after. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken)
Bears quarterback Justin Fields had five turnovers in an ugly loss Sunday. His coach Matt Nagy didn't exactly help him out, either during the game or after. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken)

No. It turns out Tampa didn’t have 12 defenders on the field. Either the voice over the headset had it wrong originally or failed to estimate how quickly the extra player would reach the sideline. There was no flag. The play stood. Tampa’s ball. Six snaps later, Tom Brady threw a touchdown to take a 14-0 lead. The game was essentially over.

“In the headset, they were telling me we had 12 men on the field,” Fields explained. “... it just went bad from there.”

Boy did it ever. Although at least some, if not most, of that had to do with an offensive line that is incapable of protecting Fields.

You’d think Nagy would shoulder much or all of the blame, if he wanted to try to keep Fields’ confidence up and move on from what was always a likely loss at the reigning Super Bowl champions. If not, he could at least point out the coaches screwed the kid on the first pick that set the tone for the day.

That didn’t happen though, which leads to wonder about how this development works for a raw prospect being led by a hot-seat coach? The 12-men interception was, according to Nagy, apparently Fields’ fault, not the coaches.

“As these young quarterbacks go through this development, there’s situations like this that can happen,” Nagy said. “We have techniques within our system to take advantage.

“And when that happens, if they do have 12 guys on and you catch them obviously it’s a free play. If they don’t, and you hear that, that’s where you have to understand that and learn from that. And that’s our job that we are teaching that the right way. Not just him, but everybody.”

So Fields was expected to hear that there were 12 players, yet have the wherewithal to instantly count that there were actually 11 and change accordingly?

That’d be great if he could do that. But he can’t. Not yet, at least. After all, just last week the same problem happened. Very few rookies have that awareness. That’s an Aaron Rodgers play.

Yet Nagy shrugged and shifted too much of the blame for the blowout on Fields.

“The one thing you can’t do is give a short field to a great quarterback like that, and a great offense that’s well-coached,” Nagy said. “And you can’t lose, that drastically, the turnover battle.”

Gee, wonder who had five turnovers? How is this productive – other than to paint a sympathetic picture of the coach?

Fields, for his part, acknowledges his struggles. He has thrown two touchdowns against six interceptions. He has been sacked an astounding 22 times. He’s still trying to find a rhythm out there.

It might help if Chicago called some designed runs, which it hasn't in either of the past two games. Or at least stop barking about too many defenders on the field, which even if it were accurate is complicating the already complicated.

All Fields can do is vow to work harder until Chicago (3-4) is winning again.

“I’ve never been in this position where I'm losing,” Fields said. “I don’t know how to feel. My only reaction to this is to keep working. … You can get depressed or you can get up the next day and keep working.”

He deserves better, though.

“I'm going to keep working,” Fields said. “I’m going to keep going.”

At least someone is saying the right things in Chicago.