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Justin Fields couldn’t elude Browns’ pass rush, but he did escape criticism

Left unprotected by his O-line, rookie quarterback Justin Fields could not be blamed for the Bears’ embarrassing offensive performance in Cleveland.

Justin Fields, who was sacked nine times, learned quickly Sunday that despite playing in the state of Ohio, he wasn’t at Ohio State anymore. 
Justin Fields, who was sacked nine times, learned quickly Sunday that despite playing in the state of Ohio, he wasn’t at Ohio State anymore. 
David Richard/AP

It’s on days like these when one is reminded of that great philosopher — Thumper’s mother — and her words to her boy in ‘‘Bambi’’: ‘‘If you can’t say somethin’ nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.’’

So regarding the Bears’ organization, from top to bottom, following Mrs. Thumper’s advice (in truth, she was passing on wisdom from Mr. Thumper, and Thumper repeated it with his bad English), the rest of this column should be blank.

From Ryan Pace to Matt Nagy to the O-line to the random McCaskeys wandering about Halas Hall to Papa Bear’s ghost searching in the wilderness for a quarterback — everybody in the organization has pretty much been savaged.

Chicago has set a clothespin on its collective nose.

An epic 26-6 loss to the Browns will do that.

OK, the linebackers — Roquan Smith, Robert Quinn, Khalil Mack — have been mostly excluded. And the defense as a whole played OK.

But the mess on offense behind rookie starting quarterback Justin Fields — nine sacks, six first downs, 47 net yards? — is almost beyond belief.

But it happened.

So the spotlight has been shined on all the contributing culprits.

Except one.

And that would be Fields himself.

Only 22, starting an NFL game for the first time, with 15 passes to his résumé, he was hounded and pounded and squashed to such an extent in Cleveland that the concern wasn’t whether he was any good but whether he would survive.

He did, thank God. Indeed, he has lived to watch film and cringe and pray better times are ahead.

But are they?

Assuredly, they can’t be as bad as being fed beyond all reason to Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney, the Browns’ grinning — drooling? — pass rushers. But with the smoke of battle clearing FirstEnergy Stadium it’s clear we still know almost nothing about the Bears’ supposed savior.

Can he scramble effectively? Who knows? Can he read zones and blitzes and complex defensive schemes? Who knows? Can he lead like a leader? Who knows?

In a sense, Fields escaped the Browns unscathed. You can’t blame him, really, for anything. You can’t criticize something he never got a chance to do.

But on the flip side, there is no indication that he is headed toward greatness. There is no indication about anything at this point.

The Bears have ruined or clipped many a quarterback, and you have to wonder if it’s the franchise itself or bad draft picks or trades or coaching that does the damage.

All five of the rookie first-round quarterbacks in the NFL this season — Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Mac Jones, Trey Lance and Fields — are struggling or timid or sort of invisible.

Their teams have a combined 4-11 record.

It’s a first-year quarterback’s fate to suffer and bleed. That’s what they do. The NFL is far too complex and fast for most novices.

You want some history?

Troy Aikman started 11 games for the Cowboys in his rookie year, threw nine TD passes, 18 interceptions and lost every game. Oh, and he was beaten to a pulp.

But his is a victory story because he rose, healed, improved, won three Super Bowls and is now a Hall of Famer.

So is that Fields’ tale-to-be? Or is it the one of so many other rookie first-round quarterbacks who were failures at the start, the middle and their quick endings?

I’ll give you Art Schlichter, Matt Leinart, Akili Smith, Kelly Stouffer, JaMarcus Russell, Andre Ware, Heath Shuler, Tim Couch and Mark Sanchez for starters. All were top-10 picks. None ever led your fantasy league.

We have to wonder if Mitch Trubisky was ruined by the Bears’ legacy, by Nagy, by unwise offenses, bad drafts, poor O-lines. Or if he’ll shake it off as a backup with the Bills and succeed.

And don’t forget, Trubisky actually played in a Pro Bowl one year.

Fields has done none of that. He is a blank slate.

He’s fast, and we barely see him run. He has a decent arm, and we barely see him pass.

He came from Ohio State, which has more talent percolating than most NFL teams, and we remember Buckeyes quarterbacks, perhaps because they’re spoiled, historically don’t make good pros.

We wonder. And we hope Nagy and crew get their heads out of the darkness and do something to help Fields do what he does best.

Whatever that might be.