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Justin Fields learning that nothing in NFL life is free

The Bears’ rookie QB struggled from the start and finished with three fumbles and three interceptions, including one on the same “free play” mistake that cost him last week against the Packers.

Bears rookie quarterback Justin Fields was sacked four times, fumbled three times — losing two — and threw three interceptions in a 38-3 loss to the Buccaneers on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla.
Bears rookie quarterback Justin Fields was sacked four times, fumbled three times — losing two — and threw three interceptions in a 38-3 loss to the Buccaneers on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla.
Don Montague/AP

TAMPA, Fla. — Facing the reigning Super Bowl champion Buccaneers and their top-10 defense was supposed to be a chance for Bears rookie quarterback Justin Fields to show he’s learning from his mistakes.

Instead, he gave us one glaring example he is not.

A week after Fields threw an interception against the Packers when he thought he had a free play but did not, he did it again.

On third-and-five from the Bears’ 40-yard line in the first quarter Sunday, Fields scrambled to make a big play because he thought he had a free one.

He rolled to his right under pressure and awkwardly threw downfield for receiver Allen Robinson. But the ball was off-target — Robinson slipping didn’t help — and the ball was intercepted by Bucs cornerback Dee Delaney. Six plays later, Tom Brady threw a four-yard touchdown pass to receiver Chris Godwin to give the Bucs a 14-0 lead en route to a 38-3 blowout.

As Fields said, stuff happens.

‘‘In the headset, they were telling me [the Bucs] had 12 men on the field, so I was trying to snap the ball quick,’’ Fields said. ‘‘And then me snapping the ball quick, I think it caught our receivers off-guard because we were trying to get a flag.

‘‘So me thinking [they] had 12 men on the field, that’s a free play. So I’m thinking, ‘All right, scramble around and stuff like that.’ And then I see A-Rob downfield, and I think he slips and, of course, the pick. I mean, that’s just trying to get [the penalty for] 12 people on the field. And then it just went bad from there.’’

It was that kind of day for Fields, who again was unable to rise above the muck of a struggling offense that missed backup right tackle Elijah Wilkinson much more than any NFL team should. Fields was sacked four times, hit six times and fumbled three times, losing two.

There wasn’t even any fool’s-gold rally after the outcome was decided. Fields completed 22 of 32 passes for 184 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions for a 44.3 passer rating — dangerously close to the 41.2 rating in the debacle against the Browns in his first start.

What happened?

‘‘It’s not just one thing; it’s a bunch of things,’’ Fields said. ‘‘I’m just going to leave it at that. We’ve got to continue to work. Times like this, when you get blown out, you’ve got two choices: You can either say, ‘[Bleep] it, I’m gonna stop working, I’m going to stop playing.’ Or you can go the other route and say, ‘I’m gonna keep working.’

‘‘And I know me: No matter how many picks I throw, no matter how many L’s we take, I’m gonna keep working. That’s just the fact. That’s just who I am. Never gonna stop. I’m always gonna keep going.’’

Fields’ fortitude is admirable, but a blowout such as this one only adds to the impatience and skepticism about his development and — even more critically — about coach Matt Nagy’s role in it.

Fields hasn’t shown obvious signs of improvement, but this offense doesn’t appear to be giving him that much of a chance to develop, either. That the Bucs made both look ill-prepared was disconcerting, but Fields said that wasn’t the case.

‘‘Not really,’’ Fields said. ‘‘They weren’t throwing different stuff. We watched film on it, and I think the blitzes — the blitz packages — we were having trouble at the beginning picking them up. But I think as time went on we did a little better with protection. That’s just football for you.’’