Justin Fields flourishing means far more for Bears than 35-32 loss to Dolphins
That’s the reality of a rebuilding season. The final score usually isn’t the point. The standard for any team is to be contending for a championship or clearly headed toward doing so. In the Bears’ case, if Fields is headed the right direction, so are they.
The Bears can succeed without winning.
It’s time to recalibrate expectations to where they should have been from the beginning. The best thing that can happen for the Bears this season is to see steady, convincing strides from quarterback Justin Fields. That’s the most powerful determinant of their future.
As for their stripped-down defense? That’s a project for another season.
Nothing matters more than Fields flourishing into a franchise quarterback, and he was a dynamic force Sunday against the Dolphins despite the Bears falling 35-32.
He set the NFL regular-season record for rushing yards by a quarterback with 178 — including a 61-yard touchdown — on 15 carries and continued his stretch of efficient passing, and that outweighs any frustration about taking another loss in a season that was sunk from the start.
‘‘The quarterback was really amazing today,’’ coach Matt Eberflus said.
When’s the last time a Bears coach said that and no one laughed?
Eberflus went on to call it, ‘‘a huge step for Justin Fields and the franchise today.’’
And it was. That’s the reality of a rebuilding season. The final score usually isn’t the point.
The standard for any team is to be contending for a championship or clearly headed toward doing so. In the Bears’ case, if Fields is headed in the right direction, so are they. The rest of the roster is just details.
Along with his rushing total, which topped Michael Vick’s record by five yards and was three short of Colin Kaepernick’s 181 in a playoff game, he completed 17 of 28 passes for 123 yards and three touchdowns for a 106.7 passer rating.
In his last five games, Fields has completed 63.3% of his passes and thrown for eight touchdowns against two interceptions for a 99.7 passer rating. He also has averaged 91 yards rushing and 7.9 per carry. The Bears have averaged 24.6 points in those games.
‘‘I’m just growing and getting better,’’ Fields said. ‘‘My main goal right now is just to continue to do that, continue to trend up.’’
The highlight of Fields’ day was his 61-yard sprint down the left sideline for a touchdown. It was the longest quarterback run in Bears history and illustrated why he’s an exceptional athlete even in a league full of them.
Fields dropped back, saw the pocket collapse instantly and darted forward, still looking to throw. With no one open and two Dolphins closing in, he tucked and ran from them. A linebacker dived at his feet at the line of scrimmage. A cornerback had him squared up, but Fields cut right and lost him. Two defenders in the secondary couldn’t get an angle on him.
He was gone. The last 20 yards were a formality.
‘‘Instincts took over,’’ Fields said.
‘‘The Madden ratings better go up,’’ receiver Darnell Mooney said.
‘‘He’s insane, bro,’’ running back David Montgomery chimed in.
There are more steps to take, however.
As clean as this five-game stretch has been for Fields, averaging 170.2 yards passing per game isn’t enough to win consistently because he’s not going to rush for triple digits every week. There’s no question about his running, but he needs to ramp up his passing production.
And Sunday, he missed multiple chances to win the game. With the Bears down three with 7:50 to go, he couldn’t push them past midfield. He got another shot with 2:38 left; same thing.
‘‘That’s what you play this game for: to be in those moments and shine,’’ Mooney said. ‘‘[We want to] be a threat and have dominance and make teams scared to put us in that situation. Eventually, we’ve gotta execute and shine in that position, and we will.’’
It’s far more credible when someone says it about Fields than it ever was with Mitch Trubisky.
Fields and the Bears are turning into one of those fun upstart teams, and that’s a good place to start. Those teams are fun to watch as they take their shot each week and gradually grow into something that offers optimism about the future.
It has been awhile since the Bears provided entertaining Sundays, let alone legitimate hope.
‘‘Everything makes sense in what we’re doing,’’ Mooney said. ‘‘I don’t see any flaws in our organization. Everything’s going well.
‘‘Except for the losing part.’’
Oh, right. That.
There will come a day when that becomes the only measure of whether the Bears are thriving, and there won’t be any rationalizing and clinging to positives amid defeat. That’s what life is like at the top.
The Bears have a long way to go. But with the way Fields has been playing, it’s conceivable he’ll get them there.