Why the Bears must keep starting Justin Fields

Matt Nagy simply can’t let Justin Fields spend the next month — or two months, or three or the rest of the season — wallowing in one of the worst offensive performances in the history of the oldest franchise in the sport.

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Justin Fields struggled in his first start.

Justin Fields struggled in his first start.

Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

Bears quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo had the same role on the 2014 Raiders when they drafted quarterback Derek Carr in the second round and made him the Week 1 starter. 

After four consecutive losses, the Raiders fired coach Dennis Allen. His replacement, Tony Sparano, actually held a funeral for a football during the Week 5 bye, burying it and inviting his players to shovel dirt into a pit. The Raiders went 0-10 to start the season, won three of their last six games, then hired a new coaching staff for 2015.

It’s the worst-case scenario for the Bears and coach Matt Nagy this year. 

It was bad for Carr, but only at first — he started all 16 games as a rookie, then made the Pro Bowl his next three seasons.

Justin Fields, the Bears’ rookie, needs to keep playing, too. 

Nagy wouldn’t name a starter Monday but figures to Wednesday. Picking anyone but Fields to face the Lions at Soldier Field would be compounding an unacceptable showing in Cleveland with another mistake — and failing the future of the franchise.  

Even if Nagy wouldn’t say it last week, it was clear from the moment Andy Dalton suffered a bone bruise in his left knee six quarters into the season that Fields could remain the starter as long as he didn’t prove to be a disaster. The Bears’ offense was exactly that against the Browns, though, gaining 1.1 yards per play in a 26-6 loss.

It was enough of a mess that Nagy simply can’t let Fields spend the next month — or two months, or three or the rest of the season — wallowing in one of the worst offensive performances in the history of the oldest franchise in the sport. Nagy needs to start Fields against Detroit and actually try to build an offense around his skills this time — whether Dalton has recovered from his “week-to-week” knee injury or not. 

“I hate to use the old coaching saying that this is a marathon, not a sprint, but it’s the truth — it really is,” DeFilippo said Monday. “Derek Carr’s rookie season, we started 0-10. We all would say Derek has had a pretty good career. So it’s a long way to go for these guys.

“Derek, if you went and talked to him, he would say he made some bonehead plays and this and that. You didn’t see Justin throwing the ball into double coverage. You didn’t see him putting the ball on the ground. To me, those are good things. There were no sack fumbles. I didn’t think he put the ball in harm’s way very often. 

“Part of the deal is it’s a learning curve.”

That curve stops the moment Fields stops starting games. The Bears can’t afford that.

The most disturbing part of the game was the spectacular level of the Bears’ offensive failure — not that Fields struggled. He’s expected to. Rookie quarterbacks all do. 

Five rookie quarterbacks — the Jaguars’ Trevor Lawrence, the Jets’ Zach Wilson, the Patriots’ Mac Jones, the Texans’ Davis Mills and Fields — have started 11 games. They’ve gone a combined 1-10 — with the only win coming when Jones beat Wilson. They’re 1-10 against the point spread during that time, too, meaning their teams have done worse than expected all but once. 

All those teams play their rookie quarterbacks anyway, knowing it will spur development. The Bears need to, as well — and run an offense that gives him a fighting chance. All the Bears could learn about Fields was his mental and physical toughness after getting sacked nine times and hurting his throwing hand. He didn’t break it, though the team will monitor his hand for swelling this week.

“First and foremost, [Fields] is a competitor,” wide receiver Allen Robinson said Tuesday. “Obviously, he has the talent — we see the talent. Again, it’s about him just continuing to grow. . . .

“I’m sure he’ll have many other games where he’ll play better. It’s one game. I don’t think it’s anything for him to lose sleep over. He’s very young in his career.”

Watching a young quarterback struggle isn’t in Robinson’s best interests — he’s set to hit the free-agent market in March and needs stats to court massive contracts. 

It’s not good for Nagy, either, who is in a different camp than his peers coaching rookie quarterbacks. The Jaguars, Jets and Texans have first-year coaches, while the Patriots boast Bill Belichick, the most unimpeachable coach in the NFL. None has to worry about his job this year. Nagy does. 

That doesn’t change the fact that playing Fields is the right thing to do. 

We saw what Fields did against the Browns.  

Now we need to see what he can do.

“That’s part of the maturation process in this thing, is being able to not let Cleveland beat you two times,” DeFilippo said. “That’s going to be our deal this week, flushing that out and moving on to the Lions. It’s a big game for us.” 

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