Start with this: Justin Fields ain’t running the 40 in 4.4 anymore.
A hyperextended left knee (suffered in the second quarter of the Bears’ 20-9 victory Sunday against the Raiders) will do that to a sprinter.
Getting a helmet and shoulder pads plunged into your side by a flying safety (as Fields got in the first quarter on an ill-fated spin move) also will slow you down. Try pumping your arms real hard when your ribs feel like they’re made of shish-kebab pokers.
This is the young quarterback’s indoctrination into the NFL.
To be succinct, he’s not in Columbus anymore. His Bears won’t be on the road to Evanston or Iowa City or Bloomington, Indiana. And Florida Atlantic (remember that fun 45-21 blowout for the Buckeyes in 2019?) won’t be on the schedule.
This is how young NFL quarterbacks adapt or disappear — basically, through the beatings they take and the damage caused en route, and the way they figure out how to succeed and live.
The Bears-Raiders game was one of the most herky-jerky, flow-free games I’ve seen in some time. Penalties, reviews, timeouts, delays (to see if Raiders quarterback Derek Carr was badly hurt, among other things) and so on kept the game from getting any kind of rhythm.
And that seemed to keep Fields from getting into sync, too. But above all, what he didn’t seem to understand was that these foes are bigger and stronger and much faster than any group in college football. And because of that, he was hurt twice when both incidents were likely avoidable.
As always, you admire a ballplayer’s desire. Selling out your body in football is a virtue. But quarterbacks are different.
All anyone has to do is observe the miracle of the Buccaneers’ Tom Brady, who on Sunday threw for more than 400 yards and had five touchdown passes for the first time in his career, at 44.
Yes, Brady’s some kind of freak. But his avoidance of constant injury is his key secret. How does he do it? Lots of ways — from the help of the Bucs’ offensive scheme to his brilliant mind to some mysterious sense of when enough is enough and it’s time to bail.
Brady knows what is possible.
It has to be hard for Fields to feel so young and fresh (though not as fresh as he did a couple of days ago) and yet ratchet back. Proof of that is that college spin move he promised to retire but didn’t. It might be instinctive, but after using it against Raiders safety Johnathan Abram to gain a couple more yards, he’s lucky he still has a spleen.
Bears fans got their wish. Fields is starting, and veteran Andy Dalton is on the bench. But now those fans will have to watch a quasi-horror show as Fields finds the boundaries of this new game.
It’s going to be ugly at times. It almost always is. And with 17 games this season, it’s all but certain Fields will get injured and miss time.
The people who think the Bears can’t do anything right — hello, general manager Ryan Pace — might want to remember that they have Dalton and one-time Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles in reserve, which is good. Aging and average they may be. But some teams are almost barren at the quarterback-backup spot.
“Just be smart, that’s all,’’ coach Matt Nagy said of his directions to Fields.
“I’m going to put myself out there to win games,’’ Fields countered.
So the conflict is there: safety vs. aggression.
Maybe Fields saw aggressive Bills quarterback Josh Allen hurdle a Chiefs tackler Sunday night, risking all but firing up his team mightily in the process. Because Allen didn’t get splattered, it was a great move. Break a collarbone or tear a hip flexor — and it’s not so great.
I’m reminded here of former quarterback David Carr, Derek’s older brother, and his NFL-record 76 sacks suffered his rookie season with the expansion Texans. It’s possible he never recovered.
Wonderfully talented Archie Manning was beaten to a pulp with the fledgling and terrible Saints. That choked his career.
Troy Aikman went 0-11 as a rookie with the Cowboys, and Peyton Manning threw a career-high 28 interceptions as a Colts rookie. But both recovered to win Super Bowls and make the Hall of Fame.
There are a couple of paths here for Fields to ponder. They diverge in the woods. Choosing the right one will make all the difference for the young man.