This is the kind of game Justin Fields was designed for.
The Bears faced a fourth and one-on-21 Vikings in the third quarter of their 17-9 loss on Monday night. They lined up receiver Darnell Mooney behind and to the right of the rookie quarterback. Fields took the shot below center, rolled right, and looked down the field for someone – anyone to open. He ran through the hash and towards the numbers. Fields took two jabs, as if about to run, only to see two defenders line up to tackle him.
Mooney was covered in the apartment. Tight end Cole Kmet slipped and fell, got up and was covered. Running back Khalil Herbert opened up as he walked a left-to-right crossing route, but not for long.
Tight end Jimmy Graham ran down the field as Fields rushed over and put his left hand in the air – I’m open! – as he sprinted towards the NFC Navy logo in the north end area.
Fields continued to run towards the sideline and eventually swallowed the ball. He was tackled by three Vikings. In fact, the six players closest to Fields when he fell to the ground were wearing purple.
“They obviously have it covered,” Bears coach Matt Nagy said.
He summed up the Fields rookie season perfectly. He’s shown flashes of being special – but not special enough, often enough, to overcome the circumstances of the Bears’ season.
Some problems are on his own – Fields has groped twice and lost one, continuing a worrying trend – and many are not. He played on a roster ravaged by the coronavirus. By the time the Bears entered the race for the fourth-one, Fields was without three regular receivers – Allen Robinson, Marquise Goodwin and Jakeem Grant – along with his starting tackles the week before.
Fields led a fourth game that seemed misguided from the start, called in by a head coach who spent another game playing in case he had to go, given he is coaching a 4-10 team with nothing to lose .
How much of the Bears ‘struggles are Fields’ fault? How much is inexperience to blame? His coaches? A training camp when he played mostly with second arms? The staff who have been inferior to their opponent in almost every game?
The Bears have three weeks to try to find answers. After that, the new leadership – certainly to the head coach and perhaps the general manager – will do the same.
Fields hasn’t done much to go their separate ways again, the latest in a disturbing string of popgun performances. He went 26 for 39 for 285 yards and a touchdown – but 36 of those yards and the lone score came on the last two games of the game, when the Vikings were playing shell cover.
Throw Fields ‘second half at Pittsburgh, and this is what Fields’ stat line looked like when the game came in: 121 for 213 for 1,356 yards with five touchdowns and 10 interceptions. That’s a passer rating of – wait – 64.21.
The lack of results has caused panic among Bears fans. If he was special, would it be obvious now? It would seem obvious, until you scour the bottom of the NFL passersby list. Jets quarterback Zach Wilson is 32nd. Trevor Lawrence of the Jaguars is 30th. Texans Davis Mills are 27th. Fields was 31st. All are recruits.
“Every rookie in this sport wants this to happen overnight,” Nagy said. “It takes time.
“Justin is built the right way. He’s gonna be really, really good.
He’s not here yet. The Bears have entered the red zone five times. They groped once and returned the ball twice. They kicked a basket and scored a touchdown in the last game of the game.
In the fourth quarter, the Bears methodically ran 81 yards – they had seven first downs – in which their best play was for Fields to be bullied. The Vikings have been reported to hit Fields late twice.
At third and base at 9, Fields rolled left, swept the end zone and saw Graham box his defender near the left front pylon. Graham reached out with both hands and dropped the pass. At fourth base, Fields passed a pass to the right-back corner to a leaping Mooney, who landed his right foot – but no more – as he fell out of bounds.
“You have to score in the red zone,” Nagy said. “Goals on the field are of no use to you. Missed baskets are of no use to you.
It was another near miss. It’s too early to say the same for Fields, but the next full game he plays will be the first.