Blame Matt Nagy for Sunday's Bears loss.
Really. It's a simplistic yet accurate way to look at a critical play in Sunday's 31-26 Bears loss.
It was Nagy who constantly preached "touchdown-to-checkdown" mentality for the quarterbacks. He had Justin Fields as a rookie. Fields still has too much of the touchdown and not enough of the checkdown in him, courtesy of his first NFL coach.
Checkdown doesn't necessarily mean small gain. It might mean a big gain when the guy getting the pass is DJ Moore, who has been in the top 10 throughout the season for yards after the catch.
On Sunday, Fields went to throw a deep pass on third-and-9 to Tyler Scott instead of throwing shorter to Moore, a play which has been rehashed over and over by media for its importance.
It has been treated with the same importance as the inept way the Bears defense looked defending the pass on the final two Lions drives. The defense lost that game, plain and simple. They had two series of plays to win it and didn't.
This pass only constituted one play and one missed chance.
"The last play we talked about with the cross to DJ and he threw it over top, I mean that would have been a spectacular play if we connected on that," coach Matt Eberflus said on Monday at Halas Hall. "We were right there. We've just got to do a good job of executing in that moment, and that's what we’re talking about as a group."
Know the Situation
The problem is they didn't need to execute that play.
It's true that one play could have just about locked up the win. The deep ball, if caught at the Detroit 26 with 2:44 remaining, is probably not going to let the Bears kill the clock like some players suggested.
The Bears would have had first down with two minutes left and the Lions would still have a timeout. Or the Lions could have stopped the clock there and had one play stoppage at the two-minute warning. If the Bears kick a field goal on fourth down after that completion, the Lions might have had 20 or 30 seconds left with no timeouts and trailing by eight.
So, it probably meant the game was over, as the Bears suggested, but there was that small chance the Lions could get a miracle.
More important for this discussion is the play itself and whether Fields even should have thrown to Scott.
Fields had two good options on the play. The Nagy "touchdown-to-checkdown" mentality had been drilled into his head as a rookie and he has continued that now under Luke Getsy.
There's nothing wrong with being aggressive, and in this case Fields had Scott breaking several feet already behind the cornerback. So his read was correct.
It's not often a quarterback is going to get so clear of a look at the deep ball. Fields had a good view of it developing. There was no deep safety on that side of the field as the other safety had come up and was closing in on DJ Moore
The problem was the ball was being throw a long way, and on the play Scott slowed ever so slightly to check back on the progress with the throw and Fields delivered it exactly where and when he needed to if his receiver had been running it full speed as drawn up. So it was an overthrow and incompletion at the worst possible time.
This is where the fault with Fields rests.
I'll cover this tomorrow, but I was right...— Bearlissimo (@Bearlissimo1) November 20, 2023
Can't blame Fields for making the right read IMMEDIATELY off the snap & also crucify him if he holds the ball longer for DJ Moore to clear the linebackers on the drag. https://t.co/kxFyXk3po5 pic.twitter.com/1pUT1d5kHu
He could have thrown it to Moore, who already had 98 yards receiving and had been making catch-and-run plays all day.
Moore was not as open as some still photos published in social media reflect. The photos end just behind Moore so you don't see the safety coming down hard and fast. He was about 5 to 7 yards away. A video breaking down the play by ESPN's Matt Bowen shows better where that other defensive back was.
Fields could have checked it down to Moore and taken his chances on his No. 1 receiver getting it and turning upfield. He very well could have had enough room to maneuver past the closing DB or break a tackle.
Moore would have had the open spaces if he got past this tackle. There was no one else on that side of the field except the cornerback 45 yards downfield with Mooney.
The game would have been just as over if Moore gets away from that one tackler, and he would have had just enough time to make a quick move to get free.
In fact, the field was so open it wouldn't have been out of the question for Moore to take it all the way to the end zone with one or two downfield blocks.
At worst, if he breaks the tackle or dodges his way open, he is getting anywhere from 25 to 30 yards and just about doing what the deep pass would have done.
Big plays don't have to be deep passes.
Even if the long pass comes open, situation trumps all. The game was on the line and a first down sufficed. In hindsight, Fields should have checked it down to Moore, but also, logically, he should have checked it to Moore.
It's not always touchdown-to-checkdown mentality when the checkdown can mean winning the football game. Checkdown period could have won that game.
Chalk this up as part of Fields' education as a quarterback as he tries to get all that Nagy taught him out of his head.
Playing situational football is always the key.