It would be easy to miss the real problem in Sunday's 27-24 loss to Atlanta due to the ugliness of yet another failed Bears two-minute drive.
"We need to execute there at the end," Bears tight end Cole Kmet said. "I mean, there was a ton of plays throughout the game we didn't execute properly."
The two-minute drive fails again, this time with a turnover, but the more important lesson for all from this game was what happens when you turn your quarterback into a running back too many times.
What's too many? The 17th carry turned out to be one too many on this day, but who's to say it's not the 11th carry or the 14th carry on another day.
You saw it building throughout the game. Fields would run, would not slide or when he did he would wait too long to do it.
There was no big breakaway payday coming in this one.
Atlanta had devised a scheme for preventing one and stuck to it. If Fields was going to beat them with a big play then it would need to be a pass.
He nearly did it. Fields sparkled with passes he made while scrambling around within the pocket sporadically.
Then offensive coordinator Luke Getsy turned it back to the tiresome QB sweep and run to start the two-minute drill and Fields too a hit to his left shoulder.
Fields gaining yards rushing is fine when he is scrambling to keep a drive alive. Fields rushing for yards on a planned play from scrimmage is entirely unnecessary except as a surprise, a counter to something done in the past.
Turning him into a human pinball invites what the Bears got on Sunday and in the future it will happen again if they are not careful.
It's silly to make an athletic quarterback like Fields be a pocket passer. However, if he never does learn to master passing from within the pocket then things like the two-minute drill will never happen properly. Nor will several other aspects of football.
Fields needs to be better from in the pocket to become a better overall quarterback, the kind who finishes games and drives. Then he really gives defenses something to worry about. Taking away the role of so many planned QB runs will force him to be more of a passer.
Turning him into one of their biggest—if not their biggest rushing weapon—is something a totally desperate team does.
The Bears might seem desperate, but this is the first year of their rebuild. As such, they are not desperate and need to quit acting that way. They need Fields to develop as a passer and not as a running back.
Letting Fields naturally be a rushing weapon as a scrambler is fine because it is a counter or alternative to failure by their pass blocking.
Foolishly making him become a running back who throws his body around in front of defenders is inviting what happened Sunday and the kind of thing that should get people fired.
Here are the grades for a team that can't finish or keep its quarterback safe.
Some really spectacular things were done in the passing game that got hidden by their four sacks allowed. Michael Schofield struggled greatly at right guard blocking the pass. Some of Darnell Mooney's better routes run, Kmet's brilliant one-handed catch from Fields on the move, a pair of passes for good gains to David Montgomery even a critical third-down catch by Chase Claypool, who again seemed to be used too little. Fields made definite strides as a passer in this one, even if it did end with an errant throw he made over the middle that Montgomery tipped into the air. There just needs to be more of these types of plays, and less of Fields the planned runner.
First, there needs to be some sort of courage award for Equanimeous St. Brown's run blocking. He obviously was injured and kept going head to head against stronger players to help free the edge for backs and Fields. Montgomery, with 3.9 yards a carry and the team with 41 rushes for 160 yards, is more in line with a standard rushing attack and not something freakish. It should have been enough to win a game. He adapted well to being the main running back again without Khalil Herbert available and in truth he could have been given a few more carries because Trestan Ebner did not handle his carries (6 for 8 yards) well. Getting 35:10 of possession time was a big payoff here, but again the Bears squandered a big time advantage.
Pass Defense: B
No one had more than 43 receiving yards and they held Mariota to 131 yards passing on 13 of 20. It's amost beyond belief, but they held the Falcons to 2 of 9 on third downs and still, despite these numbers, managed to lose. The linebackers and safeties managed to keep Pitts from being too damaging and then knocked him out of the game.
Run Defense: C+
A 4.5-yard Atlanta rushing average looked even worse on close examination as Patterson averaged 5.2 yards and Troy Allgeiers 6.9 yards. The held Mariota to 1.8 yards per rush, which is critical against Atlanta because his rushing yards can normally be drive-extending. And Jaquan Brisker stripped the ball from Patterson for another positive ending.
Special Teams: D-
The touchdown return allowed to Patterson falls under the category of "what on earth were they thinking?" They needed to kick it out of the end zone. Santos missing a 56-yarder doesn't carry great shame, but then again the 53-yarder Younghoe Koo made might have been good from 56, so Santos needs to be better, particularly indoors. If not for the TD return, it might have gone down as an overall net positive for special teams because three times coverage teams pinned Atlanta back inside its 25 in the first half.
Luke Getsy's decision to run wide with Fields on the first play of a two-minute drill cannot be adequately explained. They had less than two minutes and needed to be moving it through the air or with Fields' scrambling at that point. Plus, Fields' legs had been cramping up all second half and they had been working on them. Putting as little pressure on his legs at that point in the game made far more sense. Matt Ebeflus gets another negative for the decision to try a 56-yard field goal when it wasn't a half-ending play, opening the way for a late Falcons scoring drive. Alan Williams should get credited with some more unique ways to create pressure, whether from slot blitzes or linebackers and even Eddie Jackson once. The execution wasn't always good, but the attempt was made. Special teams coordinator Richard Hightower should know better than to have a ball kicked for return in the middle of the field to Patterson.
Perhaps they will learn their lesson about running their quarterback like he is Tim Tebow or Taysom Hill now, or when they're starting a game in New York next week with Trevor Siemian as starting QB.