Justin Fields’ growth in Bears’ victory over Lions more than justifies another start
Coach Matt Nagy wouldn’t say whether Fields earned another start next week at the Raiders. But he was pleased with his performance.
When rookie quarterback Justin Fields locked eyes with receiver Darnell Mooney before the Bears ran the second play of their second drive Sunday, Mooney was sure the ball was going to come his way.
He made sure to dart his eyes while running his route — and out and up — to bait Lions cornerback Bobby Price and stay outside of safety Will Harris.
Fields dropped back, put his right heel down at the Bears’ 2, stepped and threw. By the time Mooney caught the ball, spun away from Price and was tackled, the Bears had gained 64 yards.
The pass — the first of five of 20 or more yards in the Bears’ 24-14 victory against the Lions at Soldier Field — was unlike that of any Bears quarterback of recent vintage. It was far more like what Bears fans were expecting from Fields when the team laid a historically dispiriting egg last week, totaling 47 yards on 42 plays in what Fields called ‘‘one of the worst performances, almost, in Bears history.’’
Sunday was better. So much better, in fact, that Fields openly wondered whether the painful six days in between were almost for the best. He pointed to a tweet Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson sent this week, in which he talked about loving adversity.
‘‘I truly do love that because it just brings a whole different person out of me,’’ Fields said. ‘‘In some ways, I’m glad last week happened. I think if we would’ve won last week, it wouldn’t have pushed us as much to get better and practice hard.’’
Now the Bears have to give him a chance to do it again.
The growth Fields showed from his first start to his second was so great, even considering the starting point and the quality of opponent Sunday, that the Bears need to see what he can do with a third start. The progress of the bone bruise in Andy Dalton’s left knee shouldn’t matter.
Of course, coach Matt Nagy — who waited until late Saturday to rule Dalton doubtful — wouldn’t say whether Fields earned another start next week at the Raiders. But he was pleased with his performance.
‘‘Justin had to focus on [Sunday] and winning this football game and getting better,’’ Nagy said. ‘‘And I think he did both those things.’’
Asked whether he was intrigued about what Fields could do with another start, Nagy stressed that all he wanted to see was ‘‘exactly what we saw [Sunday], which is growth.’’
Nagy said all Fields could control was beating the Lions and getting better — ‘‘and I know for a fact he did that.’’
With Fields quarterbacking the Bears against the Bengals and Browns — a total of seven quarters — they gained about 5½ feet per play. On Sunday, they averaged 6½ yards per play.
In the Bears’ first three games, they completed a total of one pass for 20 yards or more. They eclipsed that total in the first 13 minutes Sunday. At the end of the first quarter, the Bears had 155 yards — more than triple their total for the entire game against the Browns.
Fields’ numbers weren’t gaudy — he went 11-for-17 for 209 yards — but he was special. With the help of play-caller Bill Lazor — who took over from Nagy — and a hapless opponent, Fields finally looked comfortable. He felt it during pregame warmups.
Fields’ 64-yard completion to Mooney was the Bears’ longest pass in almost three years. And even that one comes with an asterisk: Tarik Cohen’s 70-yard touchdown reception against the Jets on Oct. 18, 2018, was a screen pass that went only two yards in the air.
Rookie growth isn’t linear. First-year starting quarterbacks were 1-11 entering play Sunday, with the one victory coming when one rookie faced another. Then Fields won Sunday. So did the Jets’ Zach Wilson.
Fields’ biggest mistake came when his third-down slant pass to Mooney was tipped and intercepted by Lions cornerback Amani Oruwariye toward the end of the first half. Fields said Mooney was wide-open.
Later, Fields dropped a gorgeous 21-yard teardrop pass into Mooney’s arms along the right sideline. Toward the end of the third quarter, Allen Robinson ran across the field and caught a pass along the same sideline for 27 yards.
Fields didn’t score himself, but he led the Bears to an opening touchdown drive of 75 yards after they won the coin toss and wanted the ball. His second possession went 89 yards — aided by the deep ball to Mooney — and wound up in the end zone. The Bears went 77 yards to score on their first possession of the third quarter, too, to go ahead 21-0.
‘‘He’s more comfortable,’’ Mooney said. ‘‘Calm. Just being able to get that first one out of the way and just understanding that it’s not that different. You’ve just got to play regular. Just be yourself and go out and play. And he did that.’’
Now the Bears need to let him do it again.