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With four games to play, Justin Fields focuses on future

A half-hour after the Bears’ 45-30 loss at Lambeau Field on Sunday, rookie quarterback Justin Fields uttered the most meaningful six words of the night.

Chicago Bears v Green Bay Packers
Bears quarterback Justin Fields runs Sunday night at Lambeau Field.
Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

A half-hour after the Bears’ 45-30 loss at Lambeau Field on Sunday, rookie quarterback Justin Fields uttered the most meaningful words of the night.

“That’s the one positive we are going to take out of this loss, is that we are continuing to get better each and every week,” he said. “And we’re going to continue to do that, and hopefully build, not only next game, next game, next game — but also this next year, too. Just keep on building and kind of change the culture around here.”

Those words — “But also this next year, too” — have been widely ignored, at least publicly, all season at Halas Hall.

Bears coach Matt Nagy has consistently rebuffed questions about developing young players for the sole purpose of 2022 — be it Fields or fellow rookies Teven Jenkins, Larry Borom and Khalil Herbert. The reason, Nagy said: He’s worried about this week, this opponent, this game.

What goes unsaid, though, is this: Nagy doesn’t figure to be around next year. He won’t focus on next season until the Bears are officially eliminated from playoff contention. And they’re not yet, technically. According to Football Outsiders, they have a 0.2% chance of making the postseason.

When Fields talks about the future, as he did Sunday night, his teammates better listen. He’ll be inside Halas Hall in 2022, after all. His coaches and general manager aren’t certain to say the same.

Until then, Fields plans to keep his teammates engaged during the last four games of the season.

“Show them physically and tell them verbally,” Fields said. “Keep on telling them, ‘We’re getting better.’ ”

Only in that context can Sunday night be considered a success. Fields wasn’t impressive in his first game back from injured ribs. He went 18-for-33 for 224 yards and two touchdowns. Even those statistics make his night look better than it was. Jakeem Grant’s 46-yard shovel pass touchdown was caught four yards deep in the Bears’ backfield. Damiere Byrd’s 54-yard catch-and-run touchdown in the second quarter came on a pass from Fields that flew five yards in the air.

Fields had a 70.8 passer rating, threw two interceptions — including the 55-yard Rasul Douglas pick-six — and fumbled the ball away after Jenkins was whipped by the Packers’ Preston Smith. The rookie tackle held Smith yet allowed him to sack Fields and force the ball out. The Packers scored one play later on a 23-yard pass from Aaron Rodgers to running back Aaron Jones — meaning two of Fields’ three turnovers led to 14 Packers points within seconds.

Fields chose to focus on the good.

“That’s one of the hardest things when you are losing,” Fields said. “There’s so many people saying this and that, but you kind of just have to look at the positives and build on that. And just know that this isn’t going to change overnight. You just have to keep building. It’s going to be hard, but you just have to find the positive.”

For three quarters Sunday night, the Bears had to squint. They scored 24 points in that frame — and six in the rest of the game combined.

Fields was harassed most of the night. According to Pro Football Focus, Fields was pressured on 22 of 43 dropbacks. When -pressured, the rookie averaged 3.2 yards per pass. When he wasn’t, he averaged 10.2.

While Nagy said that tight ends helped block on half their dropbacks, the Bears didn’t help Fields nearly enough in his first game back from injury. When he was in an empty formation, Fields went 6-for-11 for 45 yards and a ghastly 26.7 passer rating, per PFF. Fields bruised his left, non-throwing hand — Nagy said Fields should be fine to play against the Vikings — and said his cracked ribs felt about 90%.

Asked specifically what he saw that Fields could translate to next season, Nagy pointed to the three-step process on Fields’ dropbacks: reading his pass -progressions, using his legs and being smart about sliding.

“He didn’t take a lot of hits, right?” Nagy said.

Fields ran nine times for 74 yards.

“When he has that and defensive coordinators know that, that’s scary, you know?” Nagy said. “Because he can make some special throws. He does that. He’s proven it. But now when you throw that element of using his legs on extended plays, that’s hard. That’s going to be a big weapon for him.”

Whether Nagy is here to see it is a different question. But it’s clear Fields is starting to think about next year — and the springboard the next four games can be toward it.