Quarterback Justin Fields: ‘Failure pushes me to go even harder’
To understand where Fields’ mind is entering his second NFL season, you have to go back to December 2019 — to the game-deciding interception on the biggest stage of his career.
To understand where Bears quarterback Justin Fields’ mind is entering his second NFL season, you have to go back a little more than 2œ years — to the game-deciding interception on the biggest stage of his career.
With Ohio State trailing Clemson by six points in a College Football Playoff semifinal Dec. 28, 2019, Fields drove the Buckeyes to the Tigers’ 23-yard line. With 43 seconds left, he took the snap, looked into the end zone and heaved a pass right into the arms of Clemson safety Nolan Turner. Ohio State receiver Chris Olave was supposed to run a post route, but he broke it off because he thought Fields was about to scramble.
TV cameras immediately flashed to Fields, who kept both hands on the front of his helmet — because he couldn’t reach his forehead — for a full five seconds.
There was a lesson in the loss, Fields said after reporting to training camp Tuesday at Halas Hall. The Buckeyes used it as motivation all offseason and reached the CFP title game the next year.
‘‘That catapulted us that next offseason into a whole different mindset,’’ he said.
Fields hopes to harness his — and the Bears’ — failures last season the same way. He never had experienced such a miserable season as 2021. After his teams went 30-4 in college — and 20-2 in his starts — Fields went 2-8 as the Bears’ rookie starter. He wasn’t the starter during training camp and only took the reins when starter Andy Dalton hurt his knee in Week 2.
‘‘Me being a rookie, I was kind of thrown into there,’’ he said.
The Bears’ 6-11 season prompted a housecleaning that removed general manager Ryan Pace, head coach Matt Nagy and all but one member of the on-field coaching staff.
‘‘Failure pushes me to go even harder,’’ Fields said. ‘‘So, you know, that’s really all I’ve got to say. I want to do everything I can to win that trophy and get that ring.’’
Mere talk of a Super Bowl ring is years away. But because Fields is the unquestioned starter and the centerpiece of the rebuilding Bears, he can lead in ways he never could at this time as a rookie backup.
This is what it should have looked like all along.
‘‘I just want to be great, you know?’’ Fields said. ‘‘At the end of the day, this is my life. This is what I want to do for as long as I can. It’s my job. It’s my life. I don’t know anything else. I’ve been doing this since I was, what, 6 years old. . . .
‘‘When you’ve been doing something so long, you start to love it more and more. And I love the failure that comes with it. I love everything that comes with it.’’
Even the failures?
‘‘You’re not going to always win every game,’’ he said. ‘‘And if you’re going to love the game, you have to love everything that comes with it. You can’t just love one part of it. You’re going to have to embrace the failures.’’
This season will feature plenty more of them; the Bears are expected to be one of the NFL’s worst teams. But if Fields can be successful after a disappointing first season, the Bears will move closer to answering the most important question in sports.
The Bears think putting Fields in a better situation than last season — it’s a low bar — will benefit him. So will Fields’ new coaching staff, which was pleased with his play in organized team activities.
On Tuesday, head coach Matt Eberflus called Fields’ leadership ‘‘outstanding’’ and his footwork ‘‘through the roof.’’ Fields’ teammates have praised his efforts in gathering them together for offseason throwing sessions, something he last did after returning from a family vacation to Cabo San Lucas in Mexico.
Still, the time for talking about Fields’ intangibles has passed. He has to show his progress on the field.
At least he’ll get the snaps in training camp this year.
‘‘There’s timing, there’s chemistry with receivers and tight ends, there’s pressure with preseason [games] . . . ,’’ GM Ryan Poles said. ‘‘You start to develop that feel for each other, to know when [receivers] are gonna get out the top of their routes and back-shoulder throws. Just that feel you get by taking all those reps. I’m excited to see.’’
Fields is, too. He has had enough failure for fuel.
‘‘I’m a big believer in, ‘Everything happens for a reason,’ ’’ Fields said. ‘‘Who knows how I would have taken it if I had a great game every game [last year]? Maybe I wouldn’t have that hunger still.’’