Bears players are remembered for what they do against the Packers.
Sometimes their careers are forever defined by those performances: safety Chris Conte playing the wrong coverage on Aaron Rodgers’ game-winning touchdown pass in 2013; quarterback Mike Glennon watching the snap bounce off his knee in 2017 in what would be his last start; outside linebacker Khalil Mack’s game-wrecking debut for the Bears in the 2018 opener, one that he’s been unable to replicate since.
Other times, their performances dictate the direction of the franchise itself. Mitch Trubisky posting a 62.1 passer rating in a 10-3 loss to the Packers in the 2019 season opener was, in retrospect, the most obvious sign that the Bears’ championship hopes and their quarterback’s career were heading in the same direction.
On Sunday, it’s time for rookie Justin Fields to make his mark against the Packers at Soldier Field. Or, at the very least, his first impression.
“We know we have a big opportunity ahead of us,” Fields said.
And a big opportunity for him.
Not that Fields will let himself feel the pressure. He’ll continue to do what coach Matt Nagy considers one of his great strengths: control his emotions.
“I think I’m a great evaluator of myself,” Fields said. “I know when I’m doing something wrong or something like that. Just knowing who you are — how you react to certain things and how it’s going to affect something — I think that’s very important, really, into any career. Or any part of life, really. Of course I try to stay as calm as possible in most situations, and just keep going.”
Try as the Bears — and Fields himself — might, there’s no downplaying the importance of his entry into the sport’s best rivalry.
Fields was smart enough to say this week that he doesn’t view Sunday’s matchup as one between him and Rodgers. He’s more likely competing against Trubisky and the 15 other quarterbacks who have started for the Bears since Rodgers entered the NFL. Fields is already showing glimpses he could be the face of the franchise for a decade or longer. To do so against the rival Packers would, to borrow one of Nagy’s favorite tropes, make it real.
The flip side is true, too: The patience Bears fans have afforded Fields over his first three starts won’t be as great in the middle of a blowout loss to the Packers.
Nagy has already seen how Fields handles failure, whether it be the debacle against the Browns in Week 3 or his ill-timed fourth-quarter interception against the Bengals the week before.
“In that moment, it can be easy for probably 90% of people to let it affect you the next play,” Nagy said. “And he’s part of that 10%, in my opinion. He does a great job with that. It’s natural.”
Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace scouted how Fields performed in the big moments, namely Ohio State’s rivalry games with Michigan and the national playoffs.
“To be able to see it live and have it firsthand, and to see how he handles situations, there’s a calm for all of us,” Nagy said. “I think the fact that he’s that way, that’s a strength that not everybody has.”
Bears-Packers, though, is different than playing the Bengals. Fields will find out Sunday. What he does next will be fascinating.
“As you approach and you prepare, we all understand the rivalry of this division game,” Nagy said. “We all get it. We understand it. We know it. At that position, for him to be as young as [Fields] is, I think the experiences he’s been through help him. The confidence he has in himself and his teammates helps him. And he’s young. It’s only going to get better.”