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On Any Given Sunday Blowouts Also Happen

The Bears face steep odds as they play in Tampa against Tom Brady and the defending Super Bowl champions, and an upset might demand taking risks

Improvement and development have been themes for the Bears and quarterback Justin Fields since their embarrassing Week 3 loss in Cleveland.

"Eventually our growth will pay off at the end so we just hope to win as we continue to grow rather than continue to grow and not win," Fields said.

Last week they tested the ceiling on their improvement in a home-field loss to antagonist Aaron Rodgers, and now test it again against the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers on the road. 

This is unlikely to be a game where a conservative approach taken with Fields since the Cleveland debacle can pay off. 

 Logically, somewhere along the line they'll need to take risks on both sides of the ball if they want to knock off an accomplished team that remembers them well from a 20-19 Bears win last year at Soldier Field.

'I think it depends on how you feel the game is going once the game is started, you know?," Bears coach Matt Nagy said. "It's easy to say big mindset yeah, this is the No. 1  explosive team in the NFL. They've got one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play in the history of the game, they've got a defense that's playing really well and they're well coached, all that stuff." 

Going into a shell invites an attacking defense to attack the offense.

"So you know that when you have opportunities to strike, you've got to strike and however that is," Nagy added.

Bears 12-Point Underdogs

Oddsmakers don't like the Bears' chances of striking up anything greater than a conversation as they're 12-point underdogs, which is like saying you don't have a prayer of beating Tom Brady for a second straight year.

On the other hand, you know what happens in the NFL.

In fact, bigger surprises occurred last season when the previously winless Jets beat the Rams 23-20 as 17 1/2-point underdogs and the Bengals beat the Steelers 27-17 as 14 1/2-point underdogs.

The problem for the Bears rests not in odds or strategy but the matchup itself. Tampa Bay is better at what the Bears do well and far better at what the Bears do poorly.

The only consistent Bears offensive weapon to date has been the running game, yet Tampa Bay is No. 1 against the run.

"No matter who you play we always talk about, you always gotta start off with the run and get (it going)," Nagy said. "It makes everything so much easier. We’ll have our ways of doing what we wanna do and they're gonna have their ways of trying to stop what we want to do and then it's about adjustments and matchups throughout the game."

The Bears strength on defense is a pass rush, where they share the league lead with Minnesota at 21 sacks. Yet only four teams have given up fewer sacks than the Buccaneers, who have allowed nine. And not having edge rusher Robert Quinn available with COVID-19 won't help the Bears in this regard.

Tampa Bay's secondary is down three cornerbacks and several other key injured players have already been ruled out: wide receiver Antonio Brown and tight end Rob Gronkowski on offense and linebacker Lavonte David. The latter is a particularly tough loss for Tampa Bay.

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"I mean, I'm sure they have good depth at that position, too, but he's a great player," Bears guard Cody Whitehair said. "He's fast, he's a veteran guy that plays with good instincts. So any time you can get a guy like that off the field, it's definitely advantage us."

Justin Fields vs. Tom Brady Decides It

As usually is the case in the NFL, it comes down to quarterback, and Fields is a rookie going against a defense using more blitzes than any team in the NFL (39% of all plays). This kind of a mix didn't work well when the Browns mixed up a variety of blitzes and sacked Fields nine times.

The plan afterward was to make it more clear to Fields what to do with the ball by simplifying options.

"I mean I think every football player plays better when it's simple," Fields said. "When I have to think less, when every football player has to think less, you're going to play faster. They're gonna play more instinctively rather than having to think."

The Bucs blitz makes even playing instinctively difficult, yet Tampa Bay has only 12 sacks this year.

A possible scenario compounding budding disaster is running back Khalil Herbert, a rookie in his second start, must pick up some of these blitzes as a pass blocker.

"I think Khalil can definitely handle that," Nagy said. "I really feel like he’s in a good place. Even just out here about a half-an-hour ago (at practice), he did a good little deal with checking, over-communicating with the line and Justin on a protection check that you don't see a lot of rookies do. 

"Sometimes they just stay in their spot and let the error happen. But he stepped up and wanted to find out what the call was. So little things like that, he's really mature for his age and he's gonna be able to handle things."

It's often said the only way to beat Brady is in a shootout, and Matthew Stafford did this in a 34-24 Rams win, one when both teams went over 400 yards of offense. 

The Bears haven't scored on anyone, as 24 points is their season high. Getting close to 400 yards might make them faint. But there are two instances of the Buccaneers nearly losing to teams in lower-scoring games. 

In those, inexperienced passers nearly pulled off the upset.

Rookie Mac Jones almost did it for Bill Belichick in the Patriots' 19-17 loss, while second-year quarterback Jalen Hurts got Philadelphia within 28-22 last week in defeat while making his 10th NFL start.

Fields would like wins, though, and not the education he'll likely receive.

"The challenge is you don't really experience that situation unless you've been in it or you learn from somebody else's experience in the same situation," Fields said.

If that's the case, they better have gathered tons of information from game films this week because it doesn't get much tougher for them on this season's schedule.

Twitter: BearDigest@BearsOnMaven