On the surface, Aidan Hutchinson’s game-sealing strip-sack of Justin Fields was an all-too-familiar indictment on the Bears’ beleaguered quarterback — the latest in a string of fourth-quarter failures showing why he’s not the guy for the Chicago Bears going forward.
To an extent, it’s true. It might not have been his fault the Bears’ coaches and defense blew a 12-point fourth-quarter lead, but his job as a quarterback is to overcome that and make game-winning plays anyway.
Of course, he would’ve done so on 3rd-and-9 on the Bears’ penultimate drive if Tyler Scott had kept running his route and come down with a perfectly placed deep ball to break the Detroit Lions’ backs. But, as in the Commanders, Vikings and Dolphins games last season, Fields’ supporting cast let him down. But I digress.
It’s fair to want more from Fields than two game-winning drives and one comeback in his career, especially if you’re weighing paying him like a franchise quarterback next season. He unfortunately failed to show it again on Sunday, though you could say it’s still a long shot to get roughly 40 yards in 26 seconds. Not being the problem doesn’t fully absolve Fields for not being the solution.
Still, it’s hard not to look at what transpired Sunday and think that criticism, while valid, remains unfair to an extent when it comes to Fields.
Know he had the late fumble with about 25 seconds left— Dan Orlovsky (@danorlovsky7) November 20, 2023
But Fields was awesome today for @ChicagoBears
-they used him on designed runs properly
-he threw fantastic on the run
-got through progressions well
-made plays down the field
Feels like future isn’t on Chi but keeps it…
He had, what, two bad snaps — the strip-sack and the near-INT on the sideline to Brian Branch — the entire game on Sunday after four games off? And played through an additional injury to his right middle finger to put up 169 yards passing, a touchdown and 104 yards rushing?
Fields would’ve been the reason the Bears beat a division rival in head coach Matt Eberflus’ tenure (alongside a defense that played its butt off for about 50 minutes, of course). His clear growth as a passer was on display for much of the game as he completed almost 70% of his passes, was sacked just twice and kept the chains moving with both his arms and legs.
His touchdown throw to DJ Moore was as obvious as it gets when it comes to genuine improvement as a passer: climbing the pocket as a threat to run before resetting an delivering a strike to Moore, redeeming a throw he missed earlier in the game.
And the only fourth-quarter passing attempt he had should’ve been caught and won the game. If you don’t like the deep shot in that situation, blame Luke Getsy. Because Fields executed the play exactly as it was drawn up, as confirmed by Fields, Scott and Eberflus after the game.
In short, he was the best player on the field— again. He did everything he needed to do to win on Sunday, and the Bears let him down, not the other way around.
Now, where does that leave Fields going forward? No idea.
He now has four games in the “bad” category and three games in the green, though all three of those games have promisingly come in his last four. The Bears have won just one of those games, however. While it’s not all Fields’ fault that’s the case, the narrative around him would be different if he was 3-4 in his six starts rather than 1-6.
If they and Carolina keep losing, he’s likely playing these games as an audition for a new team after the Bears draft Caleb Williams or Drake Maye, whatever you think of how they’ve played in recent weeks. Rookie quarterback contracts are insanely valuable, and young passers buy coaches and general managers time at their jobs. The Bears said they need to be “blown away” by a rookie quarterback to move on from Fields, and there’s a better chance Williams and/or Maye do that than Bryce Young and C.J. Stroud last year. (Additionally, the Bears might not want to pass on another young quarterback after watching what Stroud is doing for the Houston Texans right now.)
Still, a strong performance to close this season (regardless of the record) keeps the door open a coach might say “I want to coach Justin Fields” with a roster that could be ready to win sooner than we think, not just trade him at the first opportunity.
Here’s a fun stat: Jalen Hurts, to whom Fields’ development is often compared, only has six total game-winning drives in his career in four seasons — two each in every year since 2021. Compare that to Fields, who had two last season (and should have a lot more honestly). That’s not because Hurts can’t play from behind; it’s because the Eagles’ superior roster and coaching mean he doesn’t have to do it that often. And when he does, he’s empowered to succeed. When have you seen that here with Fields?
Maybe a Bears coaching candidate looks at Fields and sees that kind of building block going forward. Maybe (*pukes*) Eberflus will be back next season and wants to go down swinging with the former No. 11 overall pick.
Sunday showed there’s still a path to Fields proving he should stay with the Bears. But whatever happens, he deserves better than reliving games like that for the rest of his career.
Perhaps that means he has to break the cycle himself and drag this dysfunctional unit kicking and screaming into the win column. But wouldn’t it be great if, just one time, this organization didn’t constantly end up looking to Fields to save them from themselves only to eventually penalize him for not doing it?