Here’s a recipe for long-term success for the Bears: Play smothering defense, run the ball well, save Justin Fields’ life.
Not necessarily in that order. Actually, not at all in that order.
It might not be the most exciting approach, might not fulfill your deep desire to see the very athletic Fields do his thing, but it can lead to a victory and an upright, breathing, not-dribbling-down-his-chin rookie quarterback.
The moral of the Bears’ 20-9 victory against the Raiders on Sunday is that just because you’re in Las Vegas doesn’t mean you should gamble with your future’s future. It took awhile for the message to be delivered. There was a crushing first-quarter hit on Fields that brought a wince to him, to his team and to his many admirers in Chicago. He also had to leave the game briefly in the second quarter with a leg injury.
This can’t be overstated: Stop that, Bears.
But with Fields eventually walking away in one piece, the result and that message were all that mattered on this day.
Fields, who finally was handed the starting quarterback job midweek, got his second straight victory. He was able to get it because rookie Khalil Herbert and veteran Damien Williams, filling in for an injured David Montgomery, combined for 139 rushing yards. Those yards made life miserable for the Raiders and helped lead to a solid advantage in possession time for the Bears.
Fields completed 12 of 20 passes for 111 yards and a touchdown. He averaged a puny 5.6 yards per attempt, but that was much more a footnote than a story.
Coach Matt Nagy will tell you that offensive coordinator Bill Lazor is calling the plays now but that the Bears’ game plans are very much a collegial production. All I know is that whichever coach is in charge of making sure Fields remains safe needs to get a little better at that.
The Bears brought in extra protection to help an offensive line that needs lots of it. The line can run-block, but it wouldn’t want to put pass blocking on its résumé. Until it learns to do that, a vanilla offense is the best approach.
Fields got the wind knocked out of him on a big hit to the ribs by Raiders safety Johnathan Abram in the first quarter. It was scary. He looked vulnerable and somehow reduced. But he bounced back.
“I’m going to put myself out there to win games,’’ Fields said. “That’s what [fans] can expect every play, every game. I’m going to give it my all.’’
“That son of a buck is tough,’’ Nagy said.
He is. But there’s no need to prove it. If the Bears are going to continue to be successful, it’s incumbent on them to keep running the ball in order to keep Fields out of harm’s way.
He was at his best in the fourth quarter, after the Raiders had cut the lead to 14-9. He had a huge completion on a third-and-12 to Darnell Mooney, putting the ball in a window the size of a bucket for a first down. It led to a field goal and breathing room. Fields will grow from that play confidence-wise, and, eventually, opposing defenses will have to honor his ability to make plays.
Someday, he might even be in a position to take full advantage of his talents. That day isn’t here yet.
“Once we get rolling like that, we’re a scary offense,’’ said Williams, who scored a touchdown.
He might be getting ahead of himself, maybe a few football fields ahead of himself, but you understand the enthusiasm. The Raiders presented more problems for the Bears’ offense than the Lions had the week before. In that regard, this victory was worth more. Coaches like to talk about their teams’ identity. Hopefully, Nagy was paying attention. This should be the Bears’ identity until general manager Ryan Pace finds him an offensive line. Or until another Bears GM finds another Bears coach an offensive line.
If the team continues to play good defense, life will be a lot easier for Fields. It was soooooo hard to gain ground against that wall. The Raiders tried and tried. Over and over again, Khalil Mack and his teammates said no. If you’re a fan of offense, watching Derek Carr try to move the ball was excruciating. If you’re a fan of the Bears, it was beautiful.
There are still a lot of spills on a lot of the Bears’ aisles. They continue to struggle with on-field discipline. Dumb penalties are a theme five games into the season. That will eventually bite them if it continues.
But the Bears are 3-2 after two straight victories. No one is thinking about penalties.
All anyone is thinking about is Fields’ continued well-being.