TAMPA, Fla. -- All the good feelings, vibes, and hope from training camp are washed away after just two games. Despite a clunky month of camp, the Bears' offense entered the season confident they'd hit the ground running and flash the explosive potential they'd spent the offseason touting.
So much for that.
Quarterback Justin Fields and the Bears' offense stumbled out of the gates in Week 1. The game plan was flawed, the protection worse, and the third-year quarterback lamented his conservative approach in the season-opening loss to the Green Bay Packers.
Things looked different to start Sunday in Tampa as Fields led the Bears on a crisp six-play, 75-yard drive that included completions of 31 and 33 yards to DJ Moore and ended with a 1-yard touchdown run from the young signal-caller.
You could hear the exhale from those in Chicago all the way down in Tampa.
That's how the offense should look. Now we're clicking.
Dear reader, they were not clicking.
On their next six drives, the Bears gained a total of 72 yards and averaged 2.1 yards per play during that stretch.
A 90-yard drive in the fourth quarter skewed the Bears' numbers, but the autopsy of wreckage from a disappointing 27-17 loss to Tampa shows an offense with no flow, plan, or cohesive message as it searches for answers.
“I think we’re improving," wide receiver Chase Claypool said after the loss. "I think we did a lot better than last week. I think it’s too early to say we’re having issues. I think there’s going to be times in the season where we don’t play our best in the passing game, in the run game, blocking. We just have to learn from that and do better the next week. We were a little better this week but got to do better.”
When asked to pinpoint the reason for the inconsistency on offense, Claypool pointed to individual mistakes that ruin plays and drives, using his critical offensive pass interference penalty on the Bears' game-winning drive attempt as an example.
While Claypool remained semi-defiant that the Bears' offense has problems, Moore admitted the Bears need to "go back to the drawing board" to fix their problems.
The star wide receiver was pleased that he and Fields had more of a connection than they did in Week 1. Moore has been around the league long enough to know that Fields, who had a brutal game filled with issues the Bears said they worked out, will be the subject of much criticism locally and nationally.
“He got better. I know he wants to be more explosive with it and more dialed in with it," Moore said when asked if he felt the passing game was better in Week 2. "We’re going to keep working at it. As long as he has faith in all of us, we’re going to keep riding with him.”
Fields' issues with pocket presence, his internal clock, and his inability to consistently throw with anticipation are the headliners for the Bears' struggles in Tampa. But they only start with the quarterback.
The Bears' offensive line has been horrid in pass protection and arguably worse in the run game.
After leading the league in rushing last season, the Bears have been unable to find any traction on the ground through two weeks. An offense that can't run the ball and has no faith it can hold up in pass pro has no margin for error and will have a tough time finding answers.
That search for a cure starts on the individual level
The Bears must fix the micro before they can hope to work out the more significant problems.
“I’m just trying to figure out for myself, obviously I can only speak on my mistakes. I’m just trying to figure out where I’m lacking that focus," left tackle Braxton Jones said after the loss. "You know, the false start. I didn’t even really let it bleed into the next play. It looks like I gave up a sack, which I did. it’s fully on me, but I just think he got a good jump on me. I still got to find a way to win the rep. As far as the false start, I’m trying to figure out if I’m losing focus or, it’s just tough. I got back to the bench and try to be locked in, not have those lapses, but kind of happened. I’m being really tough on myself. It sucks to go out there and have that break ... it’s tough. I’m trying to figure it out myself. I got to clean it up and be better for the offense and not have those mental errors.
“We can’t start pointing fingers. It’s just got to be within ourself and each person has just got to make a stand for themselves and for the team to have a better outcome on Sunday," Jones added.
Through two weeks, the Bears' offense ranks 22nd in points per game, 28th in yards per game, 22nd in third down conversion rate, last in sack percentage, and 25th in passing yards per game.
There are no silver linings.
The leap the Bears need to see from Fields hasn't materialized through two games. The same issues that plagued him last year reared their head Sunday in Tampa. The play-calling is suspect, the rebuilt offensive line is already banged up and ineffective, and the one thing they did well in 2022 appears to no longer be in their arsenal.
There are no readily available solutions for the Bears' offensive struggles. They won't return to Halas Hall and find the key to unlocking their dormant run game and fixing Fields' problems under the cushions in Kevin Warren's office.
No, this is going to be an odyssey with intense construction needed at every level of the operation.
The words dynamic and explosive need to be locked away in a box and hurled into Lake Michigan. This offense needs to start with consistent and competent before anyone can think of using words earmarked for the most feared attacks in the league.
While there were no clear answers in a puzzled Bears' locker room, Fields seemed to have a good grip on the size of the task at hand.
"I think we have a long way to go. I think we have a long way to go," Fields said. "But I just think if we keep working, we’ll get there and I think everybody has to keep that mindset. I think in this position, you can do one of two things, and that’s either lay down, just kind of throw in the towel and kind of say whatever, but I don’t think anybody on the team’s like that. But it’s my job, it’s the coaches job to keep everybody going, keep everybody’s moral up. Like you said, it is a long season, but I mean, we definitely have a lot to fix. Definitely have a lot to get better at, so that’s what we’re going to do."
An offseason of excitement and hype, one where words like MVP and playoffs were thrown around like candy at a child's birthday party, has been eviscerated by back-to-back weeks of offensive inefficiency, frustration, and a disappointing start for Fields.
They'll go back to the drawing board. Scrap everything. Have a re-evaluation after two weeks.
They can do all of that, but there's no reason to believe things will get better soon. Issues this this severe aren't fixed overnight, and often are never cured.