Bears, Justin Fields looking for success at scene of last year’s low point
Fields was sacked nine times and hit six more times in the Bears’ 26-6 loss Sept. 26. On the shores of Lake Erie, coach Matt Nagy’s offense totaled 47 yards — the franchise’s fewest in 40 years — on 42 plays.
Bears quarterback Justin Fields hasn’t told rookie tackle Braxton Jones about the last time he played in Cleveland.
“I’m glad,” Jones said. “I mean, that was last year. We’ve got a different group of guys — and obviously we’re looking for a better outcome.”
It will be hard for the Bears to play a worse game Saturday, when they travel to FirstEnergy Stadium for their preseason finale. Fields was sacked nine times and hit six more times in the Bears’ 26-6 loss Sept. 26. On the shores of Lake Erie, coach Matt Nagy’s offense totaled 47 yards — the franchise’s fewest in 40 years — on 42 plays. The Bears’ 1.1 yards per play were the second-fewest by any NFL team this century.
What began as a monumental day in Bears history — Fields was making his first career start — ended with foundation-cracking questions about the entire franchise. Nagy was so overmatched strategically that he polled players during a team meeting days later about what they would do to fix the offense. The next Sunday, offensive coordinator Bill Lazor — not Nagy — was calling plays.
Faith in the Bears’ coach was shaken. Nagy’s end was just beginning. When chairman George McCaskey decided to fire Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace, he bet that the root of the Bears’ problem were the decision-makers, not Fields.
The second-year quarterback has all season to prove him right. A strong performance Saturday — Fields and the starters are expected to play the first half — would be a small step in that direction. It would be a larger, symbolic one, though, for Fields to return to the scene of the crime against football and play well.
Mercifully, Fields is in a different situation than he was last season. He’s in a new offense — an outside-zone run scheme popularized by the Shanahans and Gary Kubiak, combined with a vertical passing game — and has a new position coach, coordinator and head coach.
Offensive coordinator Luke Getsy will put Fields in a better position to succeed than Nagy did the last time in Cleveland. It’d be impossible to do worse than a game plan that frustrated Fields in his first pro start. Nagy isolated an overmatched offensive line against Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney and rarely gave Fields blocking help in the backfield.
Fields is learning the new scheme, with inconsistent results on the practice field and in preseason games. He was held scoreless in 18 snaps — a little more than a quarter of time — in the opener. In Game 2, he led a nine-play drive that stalled at the Seahawks’ 17-yard line and resulted in a field goal.
Fields will get as many snaps Saturday as the previous two games combined. If he succeeds, the Bears can ride a ripple of momentum in the 15 days leading up to the opener Sept. 11 against the 49ers. If he fails, Fields will have turned in disappointing performances in two of three preseason games.
Fields certainly remembers the last Cleveland trip, but few of his teammates do. GM Ryan Poles has changed the roster so much that only 21 players remain from the 53-man roster that day. Eight play on offense, and six figure to start Saturday: guard Cody Whitehair, center Sam Mustipher, tight end Cole Kmet, running back David Montgomery, receiver Darnell Mooney and Fields. Hopefully, they can block.
“I just remember the loss,” said safety Eddie Jackson, who started in that game. “I mean .... we lost a lot last year. Right?
“That’s what I remember. That’s the ones you remember, the losses. You remember the wins, too, but more the losses.”
A better showing Saturday will make last year easier for Fields to forget.