LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Justin Fields had Bears running back Roschon Johnson wide-open late in the second quarter of the Bears' 27-17 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.
It was a throw Fields should have easily seen and ripped to his running back. A completion would have had the Bears knocking on the door before halftime and likely would have changed the momentum of the game.
But Fields didn't rip it to Johnson. The protection held up, but the third-year quarterback held the ball and eventually took a sack. The Bears wound up settling for a field goal on the drive.
On Monday, Bears head coach Matt Eberflus noted the Bears' spacing was wrong on the play, and that caused Fields not to let it fly.
"Yeah, so we were getting on the ball quick to keep them in the personnel," Eberflus said of the Bears going no-huddle. "So that's what we were doing there. And the play is really a four-out strong type of play. It's designed to really spread out the field. We got to do a better job with our spacing there, you know, with our receiver spacing. There was a little bit of an issue there with the spacing part of it, and we've got to do a better job executing there.
"That's the reason. That's the reason why there was a hesitation there, yep."
That wasn't the only play where the Bears' spacing was clearly off.
Early in the fourth quarter, the Bears had tight end Cole Kmet and wide receiver DJ Moore lined up to the right. Fields' pass to Kmet was tipped at the line and fell incomplete. But further review of the play shows both Moore and Kmet running the same stick route just feet away from each other.
Wide receiver Darnell Mooney said the Bears' spacing issues Sunday came down to attention to detail and knowing where to line up depending on whether the ball is on the hash or in the middle of the field.
"I think it's just something we just have to continue to talk about with everyone," Mooney said Monday. "Like, the ball is in the middle of the field, or which hash, or whatever it may be. It's just something we have to get back to more detail on where we need to be on the spots-wise, based on where the ball is in the game. Usually, the ball is always on the hash, but the ball was kind of in the middle of the field, so we kind of have to figure out the details on that for sure."
After the 27-17 loss to the Bucs, the Bears' offense had little answers for the long journey ahead.
Fields admitted the Bears have "a long way to go." Moore said the offense needs to "go back to the drawing board." Chase Claypool and left tackle Braxton Jones both pointed to mental lapses that severely cost the Bears in Tampa.
Claypool committed a critical offensive pass interference penalty late because he thought the Bears called a run, not a screen. The penalty backed the Bears up to the 6-yard line, and Bucs linebacker Shaq Barrett picked off Fields' screen pass and pushed his way into the end zone to put the final stake in the Bears' heart.
The Bears' offense had two impressive drives against the Bucs and a bunch of nothing on their other possessions. The lack of consistency in the passing game is frustrating, and there's no quick fix to get them back on track. Fields is holding the ball too long at times. The pass protection has been spotty. Receivers are running the wrong routes or sometimes executing the wrong play entirely.
Nothing is working right now. The Bears' offense is a complete disaster two games into a season that was supposed to be highlighted by Fields making a big leap as a passer.
Mooney believes the Bears can fix some of their issues by trusting their playmakers and going to a more vertical passing game. That would also mesh well with Fields' strengths and might help the young quarterback get into a better rhythm.
As the Bears try to diagnose their offensive issues, all options must be on the table. The scheme needs to play to Fields' strengths, attention to detail must improve, and the non-existent run game must re-emerge.
Most important of all, Fields has to be better. Plain and simple. It doesn't all fall on his shoulders, but a lot of the Bears' passing game problems Sunday were a product of Fields holding the ball too long and either not seeing throws or refusing to pull the trigger.
We're only two weeks in. There is time for the Bears to turn this around. But this is not a spot anyone thought Fields and the Bears would be in at this point entering Week 3.
Things have gotten dark quickly for the 2023 Bears. Each time Fields misses an open guy, or a receiver runs the wrong route, the dimmer slides down a notch. The lights feel like they are almost out already.