5 Takeaways: Disheartening loss leaves many questions for Bears
CHICAGO – Justin Fields struggled to explain how this all could happen, the Bears starting a new season with an ugly loss to their arch rivals. He couldn’t process the manner in which it played out. But he was prepared to share an apology.
“I’m sorry to my teammates, all the fans that were rooting for us,” Fields said. “But we’ll bounce back. We’ll be good.”
The Bears suffered a disheartening 38-20 loss to the Packers in their season opener Sunday. Fields was out-played by Packers quarterback Jordan Love, Matt Eberflus and his staff were out-coached by the Packers, and the legitimate hopes that arrived with 2023 shifted to fears for what’s ahead over the course of three frustrating hours at Soldier Field.
Here are the five takeaways from the Bears’ opening loss to the Packers.
1. Bears’ game plan leaves much more to be desired
Perhaps, the far-too-conservative game plan from the Bears and offensive coordinator Luke Getsy wasn’t a lapse for in-game management. It seemed to be a lack of faith in Fields’ passing abilities. This isn’t the scheme provided for a franchise quarterback, which Chicago still hopes to find.
Fields finished 24-of-37 for 216 yards, 1 touchdown and an interception. He attempted just 4 passes beyond 10 yards from the line of scrimmage, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. One of those went for a 20-yard touchdown pass to Darnell Mooney. Another fell into the arms of linebacker Quay Walker, who ran 37 yards for a pick-six.
The Bears failed to involve new No. 1 wide receiver DJ Moore, who had just 2 receptions on a pair of targets. Chase Claypool, the key trade acquisition from last November, finished with 0 receptions on only 2 targets.
“This game was hyped up,” Moore said. “We didn’t bring the juice and hype to the party today. We lost. We got to go back to the drawing board.”
Fields’ leading target was rookie running back Roschon Johnson, who had 6 receptions for 35 yards. Khalil Herbert had 3 receptions while D’Onta Foreman had a pair of catches. The Bears were intent on activating the short and intermediate passing game with the belief that they could break a big play. Chicago had only three plays of 20 yards or more.
The Bears attempted 14 passes behind the line of scrimmage, completing 8 of them for just 50 yards.
“That’s just the game plan,” Fields said. “I think with those, we just got to be better at blocking on the perimeter just to set those up. I mean, if you go back and look at the film, if we block those guys, those are 10-, 15-yard plays, 20-yard plays. That’s just the game plan.”
Last season, Getsy called a Bears offense that ranked first in the NFL for rushing with 3,014 yards, this while finishing dead last in passing yards. When asked about the priorities to strike balance offensively or ignite the passing attack with Fields, Getsy pointed to his job of giving the Bears their best chance at victory through his play sheet.
Those sentiments seemed to represent the distrust that Getsy and Fields had in a poor supporting cast offensively. The additions of a dynamic top target like Moore and the growth of Claypool in this system were supposed to change the fortunes of this passing attack. They were each afterthoughts in this game plan. An altered offensive line was believed to better protect Fields. He was sacked 4 times and constantly pressured.
There’s still a great disconnect for the Bears and their offensive identity. After this disappointing season opener, it seems that divide is with Getsy and Fields.
2. Taking the HITS
Coach Matt Eberflus takes great pride in his HITS Principle, the acronym he preaches to the Bears. It drives the importance of hustling to the football, working with intensity, forcing takeaways and playing smart situational football.
Each of the four principles were lacking from Eberflus’ team on Sunday. That would be disappointing in any game he leads as head coach, but especially so from the opener of his second season.
The Bears lacked hustle at key points in this game, including Walker’s pick-six on which he worked through several would-be tacklers. Their intensity was channeled with many skirmishes and scrums after the whistle, which included a pair of unnecessary roughness penalties. Chicago did not force a single takeaway in this loss and lacked smart situational football for the duration of this game.
“I mean, when you put your love and heart into it, you got to be disappointed,” said pass rusher DeMarcus Walker.
“But at the same time, we’re not down on ourselves. That’s not us. So, we got to continue to get better.”
On the opening kickoff of this new season, the Bears were penalized half the distance to the goal line on an unncessary roughness penalty by reserve linebacker DeMarquis Gates. It certainly seemed to set a poor tone for the Bears, who came up empty on that series.
On the interception by Quay Walker – which extended the Packers’ lead to 38-14 – he caught the Bears’ offense seemingly disinterested in tackling him. With the outcome in hand, this team appeared checked out.
After spending months this spring through the offseason program with the values of Eberflus instilled, then arriving to training camp in late July ready for this new season, the Bears simply looked like a shell of the team they were supposed to be.
What has to upset Eberflus more than anything is how the Bears abandoned his principles for their first game of this season.
3. Fate of Love
After enjoying three decades of Hall-of-Fame-caliber quarterback play from Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers, the Packers turned the page this season.
The 24-year-old Love made just his second career NFL start on Sunday, and his first since Rodgers was traded by the Packers to the Jets this offseason. Green Bay entered this season with uncertainty but hope in what Love could offer as its next quarterback.
Love shined against the Bears on Sunday, finishing 15-of-27 for 245 yards and 3 touchdowns. He was efficient with head coach Matt LaFleur’s game plan and avoided the type of costly mistakes that the Bears hoped to find from him.
“I couldn’t be more proud of just his performance (and) his poise,” LaFleur told reporters. “There is a big time belief in that locker room for Jordan Love, and I think the guys, they’re going to rally around him. They’re excited for him. They love him. They respect him. He comes to work every day, great attitude, great energy. I think you saw that today.”
When the Packers selected Love with the No. 26 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft – making a bold trade up to land him – they set off a chain of events that ultimately led Rodgers out of Green Bay.
A four-time MVP quarterback over the last 18 years, Rodgers was set off by the Packers forming their succession plan. He landed with the Jets this offseason and the Packers turned their future over to Love.
Love’s strong performance against the Bears is one that will strike fears in Chicago that the Packers have their next great quarterback.
4. Coming up short
With the Bears facing a critical third-and-1 from their own 40-yard line on their opening drive of the season, tight end Cole Kmet shifted behind center Lucas Patrick and took a direct snap. It was a designed tight end sneak play, and it was stuffed at the line of scrimmage.
“Yeah, that was tough,” Kmet said.
Suddenly pressed into a fourth-and-1 from the same spot, Fields hurried the offense under center, took the snap and attempted to hurdle over the crowd with the ball stretched towards the first-down marker. He was stopped short and the Packers took over with a short field.
Eberflus pointed to the Bears’ analytics as what led to the aggressive decision to go for it.
“Sneak converts at a high rate on inches (to go),” Eberflus said to reporters. “Sneak converts at a high rate on inches just by percentage. That’s why we liked it.”
The Packers took over first-and-10 from the Bears’ 40-yard line and embarked on an 11-play, 40-yard scoring drive, which was capped by Love finding wide receiver Romeo Doubs for an 8-yard touchdown.
The Bears never led in this entire game.
5. Roschon’s strong debut
On a dark day for the Bears and their hopes for this season, there was at least one bright spot.
That was the rookie rusher Johnson, the Bears’ fourth-round pick out of Texas in this year’s NFL Draft, who carried 5 times for 20 yards while adding a team-high 6 receptions.
Johnson scored his first career touchdown late in the fourth quarter, reaching over the goal line on a 2-yard scoring run. The Bears believe Johnson can be their next great running back. On Sunday, he featured not just the rushing abilities but also skill out of the backfield as a blocker and pass catcher.
When Johnson was selected by the Bears, he received rave reviews from the team.
“He is a really good football player that I know is going to be successful in this league in many different ways,” general manager Ryan Poles said in April. “And on top of that, he’s an unbelievable human being as well who is going to enhance our culture, enhance our locker room and continue to meet the standards that we’ve put in place.”