For the first time in Justin Fields’ NFL career, fans will sit down Sunday at Soldier Field and expect an encore.
A week after Fields ran for 178 yards, the most in NFL history by a quarterback during the regular season, he’ll face the 2-6 Lions, who are allowing a league-worst 29.3 points and 417.3 yards per game.
What will he do for his next magic trick?
He’s trying not to let the weight of expectations affect him.
“Just go about my day like I would before all this hype came — or so-called hype,” he said. “Just put my head down and keep working. My main goal is to keep improving and keep getting better each and every day.”
That’s what the Bears (3-6) have focused on, highlight-reel plays or not. The approach has been successful; they averaged 15.5 points in their first six games and 31.3 points in their last three.
In their 35-32 loss to the Dolphins last week, Fields made plays that offensive coordinator Luke Getsy called “miraculous” and “unbelievable.” Lions coach Dan Campbell invoked the names of established superstars when describing Fields this week.
“I feel like you’re watching a little bit of Deshaun Watson in Houston, you’re watching Lamar Jackson in Baltimore, [and] there’s a little bit of Jalen Hurts,” Campbell told reporters in Detroit.
The excitement surrounding Fields has overshadowed the Bears’ losing record, paper-thin defense and difficult remaining schedule. They have just a 2.2% chance to make the playoffs, according to Football Outsiders. Only the Panthers and Texans are more unlikely to make the postseason. This season was never about winning consistently, though. It was about seeing if Fields could be the franchise quarterback.
Fields can feel the buzz building. After winning NFC Offensive Player of the Week on Wednesday, he swore he would remain “just the same old me.”
Getsy believes the structure around Fields will help him stay focused. After all, he said, Fields didn’t listen to outside critics when the Bears were struggling.
“Hopefully the environment is to remain consistent to where we are, about getting better every single day,” Getsy said. “No, we’re not in our room gloating about it. Nor were we [down] when everybody was saying the other direction of what we’re talking about. We’re a pretty focused group, and he’s the center of that focus, for sure.”
Fields is no stranger to hype. He’s a former No. 2 national prospect and Heisman Trophy finalist, and he went 20-2 as the starter at Ohio State. But becoming a bona fide star as a Bears quarterback is one of the holy grails of American sports.
“Like I said at the beginning of the year, he’s gonna blossom, he’s gonna be a dominant player,” said wide receiver Darnell Mooney, one of Fields’ closest friends. “That’s just a little bit of what he can do. He’s going to continue to set records. He’s going to continue to play well. We’re there for him. We’re thriving as a great offense. It’ll only grow from here.
“He’s going to continue to grow and raise eyebrows. He’s going to continue to be great. It’s only a matter of time before everyone’s clicking as a unit and helping him be the best him, and just blossom with him.”
Fields said earlier in the week that the next step is to establish a more consistent passing attack. Only once this season has he thrown for more than 200 yards.
The Lions are allowing 268.5 passing yards per game, fourth-most in the NFL, even after a solid performance last week in a 15-9 win against the Packers in which they intercepted Aaron Rodgers three times inside the 5.
Cue the fireworks, right?
“The main thing is not forcing the big plays, just letting them come to me,” Fields said. “Of course, I’ve always thought I’ve been able to make the big play. But I think the one thing you can’t do is force big plays and just kind of let them come to you.”