Bears quarterback Justin Fields gathered his teammates at Lambeau Field last week and delivered a message.
“I told the guys before the game, ‘There’s no better time to win than now,’” he said. “Of course, it didn’t turn out that way.”
It rarely does. Packers great Aaron Rodgers has beaten the Bears 23 out of 28 times — including last week. Hall of Famer Brett Favre won 23 times over 36 games.
The Vikings, though? That’s a different story.
It’s unfair to compare Fields to Rodgers, one of the great half-dozen quarterbacks of all time. Beating Jared Goff — who, in addition to stewarding the Lions to two wins this season, he has one of the most disastrous contracts in the NFL — has proven easy.
One bar is too high. The other is too low. The Vikings— and quarterback Kirk Cousins, whose play can be best described as perfectly acceptable — are just right.
No better time to win than now? That applies to Monday’s Vikings game, not the rivalry showdown at Lambeau Field.
A good quarterback is the great equalizer. He masks shortcomings all over the field. The Bears need one Monday night, both physically and emotionally.
They’re 4-9 and coming off a stressful, depressing week in which their roster was ravaged by the coronavirus, an unrelated illness and injury. They didn’t hold traditional practices, choosing instead to do low-impact walk-throughs. They’re five-point underdogs Sunday night. Even on national television, a spark might be hard to come by.
Fields, though, is growing into his role as the voice of the team.
“I think Justin kind of just possesses those natural leadership abilities,” tight end Cole Kmet said. “You see that every day on the field. … [and] when he first got here whether it was just in workouts or OTAs or going in at camp. So he just naturally has those leadership qualities that kind of attract guys towards him ….
“He’s done a great job in terms of bringing everybody along and staying positive throughout this whole thing — and he’s only going to continue to do that.”.
Kmet’s phrasing — This whole thing — acknowledges the reality at Halas Hall. Coach Matt Nagy figures to be fired at the end of the year. General manager Ryan Pace’s future is precarious. The uncertainty surrounding next year’s team applies to most everyone in the building — but not Fields. He’s sure to be under center in 2022.
Until then, the Bears are in evaluation mode.
“He’s doing well,” Nagy said. “We want the game to slow down for him on defense, make good decisions. His attitude’s been phenomenal — he’s got an extremely bright future. You know, rely on your teammates to help you put when you can, make plays when you’re able to and you’re going to … you end up learning every day.”
The Vikings will provide a great opportunity for him to learn on the fly. On third down, when they dial up some of the league’s most exotic blitz packages.
“With Justin it’s never a matter of, he didn’t see what happened,” offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said. “To me, that’s a great sign. Because all guys are different. But to be able to perceive what’s happening physically and process it mentally, it’s a hard thing to change if a guy can’t do it. But Justin can do it. So that gives me great hope that his decisions will continue to grow the way we want them to.”
Unlike the other two NFC North teams, the Vikings will test Fields without a curve.
“It’s not going to be roses every day — there’s going to be times when it’s not real great,” Nagy said. “But he’s so mentally tough it makes things easier, that’s for sure.”