Quarterback Justin Fields thought Packers nose tackle Kenny Clark was offside.
“I mean, I saw him jump,” Fields said minutes after a 24-14 rivalry loss Sunday at Soldier Field.
So did center Sam Mustipher. That’s why he snapped the ball as quickly as he did — the way the Bears practiced.
“He came across the football,” Mustipher said. “I thought it was a free play.”
Thinking the Bears were, at minimum, the beneficiaries of a five-yard penalty, Fields took a shotgun snap on third-and-seven from the Packers’ 47 with about a minute to play in the first quarter. Ahead 7-0, Fields rolled right and set his feet. From the top right tip of the wishbone “C” painted at midfield — the Bears’ 45 — he heaved a prayer toward wide receiver Allen Robinson. Packers safety Darnell Savage tracked the ball, caught it in the back of the north end zone, got two feet down and tumbled out of bounds.
“I was confused on why there weren’t any flags on the ground,” Fields said. “So I don’t know if the refs just missed that or he didn’t jump offside or what.”
Clark sure seemed to enter the neutral zone. Referee Bradley Rogers, whose crew had called the most offside penalties in the league entering the game, didn’t see it that way.
There was no flag. It was Packers ball.
“[Fields] was shocked, like all of us,” wide receiver Darnell Mooney said. “That play took a little bit of momentum from us because we were rolling. We don’t know if we would have scored on that drive or whatever, but we were rolling. . . .
“I feel like that’s where our momentum had left us.”
It took too long to return. After the interception, the Packers marched 80 yards and scored on a one-yard shovel pass from Aaron Rodgers to Allen Lazard to tie the game. They kicked a field goal on their next possession and, after running one play to end the first half, scored a touchdown on the next.
Rodgers, more than any quarterback alive, rips your heart out on free plays. Fields proved that he’s nowhere near his level. But he also showed that he’s not Mitch Trubisky, either, who too often made the conservative play — or worse, threw short of the first-down marker.
There’s a lot of distance between those two extremes. The Bears love that Fields chose to be aggressive, even while making a rookie mistake. If Fields wants to finish his career closer to Rodgers than to Trubisky, though, he’ll have to learn to put those mistakes behind him quicker. Fields isn’t there yet.
Coach Matt Nagy said he could’ve looked for the flag as he took the snap, though it’s not easy to do.
“That’s a moment right there — a coachable moment — that’s he’s gonna grow from,” he said. “And we all are, when you go through that.”
Before the interception, the Bears had finished their first drive with a touchdown — a one-yard run by Khalil Herbert — and were averaging 5.75 yards per play. After it, the Bears punted to end their next four drives, averaging 3.16 yards per play. They didn’t score again until the fourth quarter, when they were down 10. The Bears’ 10-play, 80-yard drive saw Fields go 5-for-5 for 64 yards, scramble once for 14 and throw a five-yard touchdown to Mooney.
“There were some timely throws,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said. “And then anytime you have to defend the off-schedule [plays] . . . it’s hard to coach against that. And he is capable of doing that on every play.”
The Bears had a chance to go into halftime tied. They had first-and-10 at the Packers’ 35 with a minute left when Fields scrambled for four yards, slid and was hit late by cornerback Rasul Douglas. Guard James Daniels was called for a hold on the play, though, negating what would’ve been a 19-yard gain.
On first down back at the 35, Herbert ran for two yards. On second down, Fields rolled right and misread which route Robinson was running. He lofted a pass that former Bears safety Adrian Amos caught while tiptoeing across the back line of the south end zone — but replays showed Amos didn’t have possession with two feet in bounds.
On third-and-eight, he took a delay of game. Fields appeared to signal for a timeout, but it wasn’t granted. On third-and-13 from the 38, Fields took a sack.
Like that, the Bears were out of field-goal range.
It would be another quarter before Fields would regain the momentum that left him when he threw the interception. The key to getting it back, Fields said, is just “moving on to the next drive.”
Against Green Bay, he proved that’s easier said than done.
“I’ve gotta play better,” said Fields, who went 16-for-27 for 174 yards and a 75.2 passer rating. “And we’ve gotta put up more points.”