The Chicago Bears are a mess, and that’s putting things mildly.
The organization’s problems range from a disconnect between the quarterback and his coaches, to injuries, to the circumstances surrounding the resignation of their defensive coordinator.
All of this happened on the same day (Wednesday, Sep. 20:)
1. Quarterback Justin Fields spoke to reporters twice, recanting previous statements the second time while admonishing the media for “taking him out of context” during his press conference.
2. The Bears announced their left tackle, Braxton Jones, would be going on IR with a neck injury.
3. Defensive coordinator Alan Williams resigned following six days of absence from the team.
We’ll start with Fields. As the Bears sit 0-2 and head to Kansas City to take on the Chiefs this weekend, Fields was predictably asked about the team’s performance as well as his own. Fields responded that he hasn’t been playing his game on the field through two weeks that saw him go 40-of-66 for 427 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions cumulatively. The Bears offense has been a disaster and no one has shouldered the blame.
Fields told reporters he had been playing “robotic” in games and was overthinking.
“My goal this week is just to say ‘F it’ and go out there and play football how I know to play football,” Fields said. “That includes thinking less and just going out there and playing off of instincts rather than so much, say, info in my head, data in my head. Just literally going out there and playing football. Going back to it’s a game and that’s it. That’s when I play my best, when I’m just out there playing free and being myself, so I’m going to, say, kind of dump all the what I should do, this and that, pocket stuff. I’m going to go out there and be me.”
He was then asked what the cause of that was, and this was his full response:
“You know, could be coaching, I think. At the end of the day, they are doing their job when they are giving me what to look at, stuff like that, but at the end of the day, I can’t be thinking about that when the game comes. I prepare myself throughout the week and when the game comes it’s time to play free at that point. Thinking less and playing more.”
For the sake of all context being noted, here is the rest of what Fields said about how he was being coached:
“I don’t think it’s too many coaching voices, but I just think when you’re fed a lot of information at a point in time and you’re trying to think about that info when you’re playing, it doesn’t let you play like yourself. You’re trying to process so much information to where it’s like, if I just simplify it in my mind, I would have did this. I saw a few plays on Sunday, if I was playing like my old self, we would have had a positive play. There would have been more third-down [conversions]. I think that’s just the biggest thing for me is playing the game how I know how to play and how I’ve been playing my whole life. That’s what I got to get back to doing.”
The sentiment taken from that was Fields was being ‘overcoached’ and wasn’t being given the tools to play his game his way. It was a thoughtful response that seemed honest and reflected on how he truly felt.
Fields is an incredible athlete. That’s how Chicago managed any sort of offense last season. But this year was supposed to be about balance for Fields: knowing when to take off and play backyard football while also being able to execute the offense he’s in. Clearly, there’s a disconnect causing him not to play as well as he’d like — and perhaps holding back the coaches from calling the game they’d like to as well.
“Nobody is going to take anything personal,” Fields said. “The coaches say we need to play better, I need to play better, I’m not taking that personal because I think everybody in here knows that I need to play better, including myself. They’re not going to take it personal if us as players go to them and say, ‘I didn’t like this call.’ They need to be better. We’re all grown men in the building, and we all can take it. It’s about working with each other, getting each other better, holding each other accountable and working towards the same goal. In terms of that fact, yeah, I think everybody can do better around here, including myself.”
After all that hit the internet, though, Fields felt he was being taken out of context in placing some blame on the coaching staff for his poor play. Bears communications staffers then gathered reporters in the near-empty locker room and announced Fields had more to say. He went on to say this:
“Your guys’ jobs are to get clicks so it’s like when you take my quote out of context, when you just say that, if you paint the picture from the inside out, y’all are trying to split us up as a team. I’m not blaming anything on the coaches. I’m never going to blame anything on coaches, never going to blame anything on my teammates. I will take every — whatever happens in a game — I will take all the blame. I don’t care if it’s a dropped pass, it should have been a pass. Put it on me. Never will you hear anything to where I would blame anyone else in this organization, my teammates, never will you hear that. I just want to clear that up. Just know I need to play better. That’s it. Point-blank. That’s what it should have been in the first place. I was trying to give y’all more details because I appreciate y’all for doing what you do. I tried to give you the information you want for your guys’ job. I’m going to do that in the future but I ask you guys to put the whole quote out. Don’t cut it up into words and pieces that make it seem like I’m saying something I’m not.”
General manager Ryan Poles then addressed the media on Thursday to reiterate his support for Fields and offer insight into the situation and underperformance as a whole.
“In terms of Justin, I can’t be more clear than this — no one in our entire building, none of our coaches, see Justin as a finger-pointer at all,” Poles said. “He has always taken ownership of anything that’s happened on the field. He takes it head-on, works, he grinds, he puts his head down. He works with his teammates, he works with his coaches, to find solutions … Everyone’s trying to figure out what’s going on, in my opinion, you got a young quarterback trying to figure it out. You have a guy who hasn’t had the cleanest start of his career. Last year, with the roster, had to put the team on the back, do some unbelievable things athletically. Now he gets talent around him, and has to figure out and balance when to do those cool things athletically, when to lean on others, and that is a, sometimes a gray place to live in. And that takes time, that takes time on task, for him to take that next step. And everyone’s on board helping him get into that place for him to be successful.”
Meanwhile, the team announced that defensive coordinator Alan Williams had submitted his resignation. The full statement from the team was:
“Alan Williams submitted his resignation as the team’s defensive coordinator this afternoon.”
It was sent via email. A paper statement from Williams was then passed out for the media members in attendance at Halas Hall. You can see it below.
An attorney representing Williams then came out with this statement to corroborate William’s reasoning in the statement for stepping away.
“Given the false rumors and what seems to be out there on social media, I just want to set the record straight that Coach Williams has some health challenges and some family issues he’s dealing with and he thought it was the right time to take a step back and deal with those issues. He has tremendous respect for the Bears organization and he just thought it was the time to handle this health issue and his personal matters.”
Poles didn’t offer any more information on the situation Thursday, saying, “I don’t have many details to add there. Halas Hall being raided is completely false. Don’t know where that came from. We’ve worked with Kevin (Warren) and George (McCaskey) and all our leadership to make sure we were handling it the right way, and everything concluded yesterday.”
As the Williams story was unfolding, left tackle Braxton Jones was placed on injured reserve for a neck injury. Head coach Matt Eberflus did not rule out the injury being a long-term issue or potentially season-ending.
Jones will miss a minimum of four games because of his IR designation. It’s not immediately clear who will be called up to replace him. Eberflus mentioned swing tackle Larry Borom as a possibility but also mentioned that there have been discussions about moving rookie right tackle Darnell Wright to left tackle, though it doesn’t appear to be their first choice.
The Chicago Bears will travel to Kansas City to take on the defending champions at Arrowhead this Sunday.
Carmen Vitali covers the NFC North for FOX Sports. Carmen had previous stops with The Draft Network and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. She spent six seasons with the Bucs, including 2020, which added the title of Super Bowl Champion (and boat-parade participant) to her résumé. You can follow Carmen on Twitter at @CarmieV.
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