Normally panic sets in for NFL teams well into the season during the midst of a losing streak.
The tone of Bears coach Matt Nagy after Sunday's 26-6 loss to the Cleveland Browns and then on Monday when he rehashed the entire debacle with media is evidence panic season has arrived early at Halas Hall.
Gaining 47 yards of offense tends can make anyone a bit edgy and it seemed to make everyone this way from Nagy to the assistant coaches who met with media Monday for interviews.
In Nagy's case the panic mode is obvious because he's considering two drastic changes.
"When you don't have the success we had on offense yesterday, with a rookie quarterback in Justin, of course it keeps you up at night, because you want to figure out why," Nagy said. "So we're looking at everything right now."
Everything, like play-calling and quarterback?
"Again, just to keep it super simple, everything's on the table," Nagy said. "And I think that's probably the easiest way to put it—the evaluation part, everything."
In this case, everything means changing back to Bill Lazor as play caller. Nagy was asked specifically about giving up the play-calling duties after only three games, much the way he did last year for that season's 10th game against the Minnesota Vikings. Lazor did it the rest of the year and Nagy reclaimed this task in the offseason because he likes doing it and believes he's good at it.
So now he's looking at this with one goal in mind.
"Making sure that we're doing everything we can to get that vibe and that juice back that we had in OTAs and then training camp," Nagy said.
Losing two road games to good teams each time by 20 points can be deflating, and when the passing attack is last in the NFL like it is, and the offense has scored three touchdowns, which ranks 31st in the league, then someone better find something. They're going to need something stronger than juice pretty soon if this keeps up.
Still, this is a 17-game schedule and it's two bad efforts. It's easy to discount the win over Cincinnati because of the shock of losing the starting quarterback and, of course, because they won.
The other point up in the air at the moment is who starts at quarterback.
Nagy included this as an undecided factor, but made it sound as though the reason is Justin Fields' injured hand.
"That's what we're working through right now," Nagy said. "So I can't definitively say who the starter is, yes."
Fields had his throwing hand X-rayed after the game and they came back negative on a break but it doesn't mean Fields' hand will be pain-free to the point of being able to play on Sunday. Even if Fields' hand allows him to play, it doesn't mean he will. No one can assume anything after six quarters when he completed 12 of 33 passes for 126 yards with one interception and absorbed 11 sacks.
Here are the options facing Nagy at quarterback and ramifications of each.
1. Andy Dalton returns
If Dalton's knee has healed enough to let him play, then case closed, he starts. They've only seen one real fluid drive for a touchdown from him but the offense did look more organized and productive than when Fields played on Sunday. The problem is, Fields' knee might not be healed. Bone bruises are tricky and he could be gone any amount of time.
2. Back to Justin Fields as a QB temp
This would be status quo but it makes little sense. That's because Nagy could have simply moved on into this week and not said a thing about who will start. It would be assumed it would be Fields unless Dalton is healthy. However, he made a special point of saying they are looking at everything. This makes it seem like one of two other options could occur if Dalton isn't playing.
3. Justin Fields becomes starter, period
Right now Fields is only filling in for Dalton. If the Bears just said they were going forward with Fields starting, it might not make Dalton happy but it would be one way to get the howling mob at the end of 1920 Football Drive in Lake Forest to quiet down.
It also should remove pressure from the coaching staff because the idea could be sold as developing Fields. No one should be concerned about record while this occurs. It's like rebuilding when someone uses a rookie quarterback.
This seems much less likely considering how much emphasis has been put by Nagy and coaches on winning now.
However, if they take this approach Nagy and Lazor need to revise the offense to look the way it did with Mitchell Trubisky during his second stint as starter in 2020. They have to have him bootlegging and playing with a moving pocket or out on the edge in the open field for two reasons.
For one, the offensive line has been horrendous and this helps remove their struggles as a factor.
Second, it gets David Montgomery and the running game going one way and pulls the defense in the opposite direction with their eyes on Fields. It can open up the run for both Montgomery and Fields.
4. Nick Foles starts
This is a possibility, and Nagy admitted it. Making Fields watch as the third-team quarterback would protect him from getting hurt behind this line and also from having more damage done to his psyche as a player.
Foles started seven games last year in the offense. He'd be playing the offense the way Nagy wants it played, the way they called it in the first three games and not the revised version set to emphasize Fields' mobility with bootleg action and movement.
So, in a way the Bears are at a crossroads for this season here in Week 4.
They can decide to scrap the rookie playing and go to one of the two veterans using the current offense. They can go to Dalton if healthy, or they could turn to Foles and continued playing the current offense.
They can continue with Fields until Dalton returns, or status quo.
Or they can simply say Fields is it, deal with it.
Ultimately they're deciding on more than who quarterbacks a game, but instead which direction the team is going in head the rest of this season.
That's pretty heady stuff for this early in a 17-game schedule.