With apology, Justin Fields showed teammates he’s a ‘phenomenal leader’
In maybe the greatest pain he has experienced as an NFL quarterback, Justin Fields paused to gather his teammates in the visitors’ locker room Sunday,
In maybe the greatest pain he has experienced as an NFL quarterback, Justin Fields paused to gather his teammates in the visitors’ locker room Sunday.
The defense gave the Bears a chance to win against the Falcons by allowing only a field goal in the fourth quarter, Fields said. The offense couldn’t score on its last drive, running Fields twice — the first led to him separating his left shoulder — followed by a third-down interception.
“They did their job of holding them to a field goal, and all the offense needed to do was get points, and we didn’t do that,” Fields said Wednesday. ‘‘We just have to get better in those situations.”
Safety Eddie Jackson — the last link to the Bears’ once-dominant defense — stopped Fields in mid-apology, saying that the game doesn’t come down to one play. The team broke up the locker-room huddle after the 27-24 loss, and Fields took a golf cart to get X-rays on his shoulder.
The impact of what he said lasted longer.
“I play pretty much for those guys in the locker room,” Fields said.
“I see how much work they put in every day. So just having them as my teammates, having the leaders we do have on this team be there for everybody and lead like they do, I think it’s a big example of how our team is and how we’re built — and what our culture is here.”
It’s a good sign for Fields’ future, whether he plays Sunday against the Jets or not.
“He doesn’t have to apologize,” said defensive tackle Justin Jones, a captain.
That he did speaks volumes — and stands in stark contrast to the 2021 first-round pick who will be on the opposite sideline Sunday. The Jets benched quarterback Zach Wilson — who was picked No. 2 overall, nine spots ahead of Fields — on Wednesday as much for his brutal performance against the Patriots as his wishy-washy postgame showing afterward.
Minutes after throwing for a career-low 77 yards — Jets coach Robert Saleh compared his team’s offensive showing to dog excrement — Wilson said he didn’t feel like he let down his defensive teammates. That only fueled postgame outrage about a Jets offense that totaled two yards in the second half.
Wilson eventually addressed his teammates Wednesday to apologize, saying that people were right to question his accountability.
“The way I handled the situation wasn’t right,” he told reporters.
Fields, meanwhile, apologized Sunday when he didn’t need to.
“Everybody stopped him,” wide receiver Darnell Mooney said. “ ‘It’s not you; it’s not just the offense; it’s everyone included. You can’t do everything by yourself.’ ’’
Veteran linebacker Nicholas Morrow called the move “bold,” saying he has never played alongside a quarterback who addressed the team to apologize.
“It’s a good leadership quality to take that type of responsibility and accountability,” he said. “At the same time, it’s 11 men on the field at a time, so we all have to take responsibility.”
Fields is a “phenomenal leader and an even greater player,” defensive end Trevis Gipson said. “He didn’t have to say anything, but it is a good thing he did, showing leadership skills and taking responsibility. We’re appreciative of him and how hard he works and what he brings to the team.”
In the last six weeks, it has been a lot — the Bears have averaged 29.6 points in the last five games, during which they’re 1-4. Fields has turned the debate about the best 2021 first-round quarterback into a two-man race between him and first overall pick Trevor Lawrence of the Jaguars. Lawrence is No. 20 in passer rating and No. 18 in passing yards per game this season.
The Bears sound like there’s no one else they’d rather have.
The Jets can’t say the same.