As much as the Chicago Bears will cringe seeing replays of Aaron Rodgers sneaking inside the pylon for a touchdown on a 6-yard scramble — and informing those seated in the southwest corner of Soldier Field he retains ownership of the franchise — they still remember Tom Brady holding up four fingers after losing track of the downs in the final minute of a game last season.
Brady and the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers are up next for the Bears, so there’s little time to spend rehashing what went wrong — and right — in Sunday’s 24-14 loss to Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.
The Bears are in a brutal stretch of their schedule that includes a home game versus the San Francisco 49ers on Oct. 31, a Monday night game in Pittsburgh on Nov. 8 and, after the bye week, a visit from the Baltimore Ravens on Nov. 21. It’s possible the Bears won’t be favored again until their Thanksgiving Day game at the winless Detroit Lions on Nov. 25.
Brady had a rare moment of bewilderment in Week 5 last season after Bears defensive back DeAndre Houston-Carson broke up a fourth-down pass to preserve a 20-19 victory and a masterful defensive effort at Soldier Field. Brady clearly thought he had one more down to play, then tried to debunk that narrative after the game.
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Over the summer, still in the glow of his seventh Super Bowl title, Brady admitted in a TikTok video he was mistaken.
“Fourth quarter, last chance in Chicago,” Brady said with a clip of the gaffe playing. “I thought it was the second-to-last chance in Chicago, but apparently not. I don’t think I’ve ever been as confused as I am in this moment right here. Look at that face.”
Rest assured, if Brady was in the frame of mind to joke about his mistake in his first career loss to the Bears, it will serve as motivation for him this week — even if a Week 7 game against a 3-3 opponent doesn’t look like it would otherwise stand out for the 43-year-old.
The Buccaneers were short-handed for that Thursday night game last season. Wide receiver Chris Godwin (hamstring) didn’t play, wide receiver Mike Evans (ankle) was hobbled and running back Leonard Fournette (ankle) played only one snap.
That was before the Bucs had wide receiver Antonio Brown, and they will have extra rest this week after a Thursday night game in Philadelphia in Week 6. So the Bears will be facing a significantly more powerful and rested offense, even if tight end Rob Gronkowski (ribs) misses his fourth consecutive game.
It’s a bad matchup for the Bears because the one thing they have done well on offense the last three weeks — pounding the ground game — will be put to the test against a Bucs defense that is No. 1 in the league against the run. Tampa Bay is allowing 54.8 rushing yards per game and is second in yards allowed per carry at 3.4.
The Bears, with rookie sixth-round pick Khalil Herbert emerging, have run for 471 yards and five touchdowns in the last three games, but the passing offense remains last in the league with 150.3 yards per game. The Bears are 31st in yards per attempt (6.1) and passer rating (73.2).
The Bucs secondary is the weakness of the roster as cornerbacks Carlton Davis and Sean Murphy-Bunting are on injured reserve and recently signed veteran Richard Sherman is expected to miss the game with a hamstring injury. The Bucs are hopeful to get safety Antoine Winfield Jr. (concussion) back this week, but it has been a high-speed game of musical chairs for defensive coordinator Todd Bowles as every starting cornerback and safety has missed time.
For the Bears to attack the secondary, they will have to unleash quarterback Justin Fields, who led two nice touchdown drives against the Packers — on the Bears’ first possession of the game and the first of the fourth quarter. In between, the offense was plagued by the inconsistencies that bog down rookie-led offenses.
“We need to get more of that in the middle and not wait from the first start of the game to that (fourth-quarter) drive there,” coach Matt Nagy said. “All of that, when you go back and look at those plays, that’s what gets you excited is being able to see that. Now, we need to do more of that. And how do we get to that?”
If you’re being realistic, an offense that ranks 30th in the NFL in scoring with 16.3 points per game might need four touchdown drives to trade punches with Brady and the Bucs. That seems like a lot to ask of an offense that is struggling to produce explosive plays.
It would be disingenuous to sift through the 10-point loss to the Packers and come away saying the Bears are getting significantly better. But Fields is growing with four starts under his belt now, and one thing he’s doing particularly well is taking care of the football. Still, the coaches — and Fields — have to open things up to have a shot at putting Brady in another uncomfortable moment late in the fourth quarter Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.
Fields didn’t want to get wrapped up in a discussion about him against Rodgers last week, and he certainly won’t entertain that this week. For the Bears to beat teams with elite quarterbacks, he has to perform at a much higher level with support from his teammates.
“The beautiful part about Justin is when he says that, he’s real,” Nagy said. “He wants to be Justin Fields — that’s all he cares about. You can respect those other guys and I know he does. We are in a great place in this league with the amount of great quarterbacks and great quarterback play going on right now.
“What I like about Justin is that he is not going to change. He is who he is for a reason. He can learn and get better in certain areas and he respects the heck out of those other guys ... but he is going to be driven to learn off of what happened (Sunday), not make it about him versus Rodgers but try to make it about our team.”
Don’t measure Fields against Rodgers or Brady. Measure him against himself and hold him to a standard that demands more points on a more consistent basis.
Otherwise, the Bears will be at the mercy of elite quarterbacks such as Rodgers, who wasn’t wrong when he said he owns the Bears.