As Bears rookie quarterback Justin Fields settles into the starting job, it’s becoming clear that his unflinching demeanor is authentic. He’s not trying to put on a stone-faced front just for show.
So it was perfectly predictable that he’d remain almost expressionless as he discussed his upcoming foray into the NFL’s most storied rivalry. Fields was virtually indifferent toward the Packers, treating them in the same manner as the Browns, Lions or Raiders.
His attitude shouldn’t be misinterpreted as disrespect. It’s just how he rolls, and it’s one of his best qualities amid the chaos of the NFL.
“I haven’t noticed an ounce of change in him in the last couple of days,” coach Matt Nagy said. “I don’t ever think that is going to change. That’s a huge strength of his.
“When you have a loss like we had vs. Cleveland or you have a win like we just had against the Raiders, you can’t tell a difference. That’s a pretty good deal there.”
It’s also a pretty good deal for Nagy that Fields is even available for this game after he hyperextended his left knee against the Raiders. He was still experiencing pain Wednesday but was a full participant in practice and said, “I’ll be good by Sunday.”
Fields didn’t say much about the rivalry — “I’m pretty familiar with it,” he said, then looked around for the next question — other than complimenting Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and bringing up some memories from playing against Michigan when he starred at Ohio State.
He didn’t even smirk when a reporter cracked a joke that the Bears are the Michigan of this rivalry, having lost four in a row and 21 of the last 25.
In his only appearance in The Big Game, Fields and Ohio State whomped Michigan 56-27 in 2019 as he threw four touchdown passes. When asked about his favorite part of that rivalry, he paused and said, “Probably beating them.”
Nobody around Halas Hall has made any smart remarks like that about the Packers since the mid-2000s, when the Bears enjoyed a run of beating them seven times in five seasons. Jay Cutler went 2-12 (including a playoff loss) after that, then Mitch Trubisky went 1-6.
Making up for all those losses is a lot to ask of Fields in his fourth start, but like many other aspects of his job, playing big-time college football gave him a valuable preview of what it’s going to be like.
“I wouldn’t say it totally prepares me for this, but I have a pretty good idea of what a big rivalry game looks like,” he said. “Trash talk before the game, in warmups, fans talking trash and stuff like that — I always enjoyed that. Hearing what they say and the nonsense coming out of their mouths always gave me a good laugh.”
Oh, so he does laugh sometimes.
It has been hard to even call Bears-Packers a rivalry with a straight face lately given how frequently and emphatically Green Bay has won. Punching their way back into it is the first step toward respectability for the Bears.
Regardless of whether Fields realizes it or admits it, that’s part of the responsibility he inherited when the Bears chose him as their franchise quarterback. And unlike his cameo in the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry, he might spend the rest of his career fighting in this one.