1st-and-10: The case for Justin Fields’ staying power

Fields’ sensational game against the Dolphins still leaves room for skepticism — this is a Bears quarterback we’re talking about. But from improved accuracy to offensive coordinator Luke Getsy, there is even more room for optimism that what we’re seeing is real.

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Justin Fields (1) runs away for the pack in the second half against the Dolphins on Sunday. Fields had 15 carries for 178 yards and a 61-yard touchdown in the 35-32 loss.

Justin Fields rushed for 178 yards — the most ever by a quarterback in the NFL’s regular season — on 15 carries against the Dolphins on Sunday at Soldier Field.

Quinn Harris/Getty Images

Jim Harbaugh went 21-9 in 30 starts in 1990 and 1991. 

Erik Kramer set franchise records for yards and touchdowns in 1995. 

Cade McNown threw for 301 yards and four touchdowns against the Lions in 1999.

Rex Grossman was an MVP candidate through six games in 2006. 

Jay Cutler passed for two touchdowns, rushed for two and had 317 yards of total offense in a playoff victory over the Seahawks that sent the Bears to the NFC Championship Game in 2010. 

Mitch Trubisky threw six touchdown passes against the Buccaneers in 2018. 

All of those were promising moments for Bears quarterbacks in the franchise’s never-ending search for just the next Jim McMahon, let alone the next Sid Luckman. But none of them elicited the excitement that Justin Fields did Sunday against the Dolphins.

It doesn’t take much to get Bears fans excited about their quarterback. A completion on a seam route to the tight end or a wheel route to a running back is a revelation in this town. In Green Bay, they call it second down. 

But Fields took it to another level with a scintillating performance against the Dolphins. Not only an NFL-record 178 rushing yards by a quarterback, including a 61-yard touchdown, but three touchdown passes — one on a perfect throw to Darnell Mooney and two on well-conceived, well-executed plays to tight end Cole Kmet. Even in Green Bay — and Kansas City and Buffalo for that matter — that performance had to open some eyes. 

It was a little too run-heavy to signal Fields’ “arrival” as a franchise quarterback — he only threw for 123 yards (or 151, including a pass-interference call on a pass to Chase Claypool). The league is still discovering the kind of threat he is and will respond accordingly. 

But while there’s room for skepticism, there’s even more room for optimism that this might be the real deal. To wit: 

  • Fields’ accuracy has improved significantly. He completed 54.8% of his passes in the first six games but has completed 65.3% of his passes in the last three.
  • Fields is not picking on only chumps. He has a 104.7 passer rating and is averaging 257.7 total yards in his last three games. The Dolphins came in ranked 22nd in points allowed, but the Patriots were tied for seventh and the Cowboys were second.
  • Though Claypool obviously helps, Fields still is operating with a modest receiving corps and a makeshift offensive line. As Claypool gets acclimated and the line finds some semblance of continuity, Fields’ opportunity for growth figures to increase. 
  • And perhaps most of all, offensive coordinator Luke Getsy seems to be learning every week what he’s got in Fields. There’s still a long way to go, but already Getsy has generated a confidence in his players that the offensive coordinator knows what he’s doing. 

“Sometimes you’re in the huddle and you’re like, ‘Oh, hell, yeah — that’s a great time to call this,’ ” Kmet said. “He’s got a great feel for all that, and all the players really are believing in that. That confidence has just been building, and we’ve had it from the beginning. It’s just continuing to build as the weeks have gone on.” 

2. Fields is running more but taking fewer hits. On third-and-10 on the Bears’ first possession, he scrambled out of bounds three yards short of the first-down marker and settled for a field goal instead of barreling through defenders to gut out the first down. That’s a prudent “live-for-another-day” play — especially that early in the game — that shows maturity in his game. 

3. Timing is everything. With expectations soaring, Fields now faces the NFL’s two worst defenses — the Lions (32nd in points and yards) on Sunday at Soldier Field, and the Falcons (31st in points and yards) on Nov. 20 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. 

Presuming Fields passes those tests, the next showdown comes — believe it or not — against the Jets on Nov. 27 at the Meadowlands. The Jets’ defense has improved rapidly under Robert Saleh. It ranks seventh in points allowed and eighth in yards, and it held Lamar Jackson to six carries for 17 yards (2.8 average) in Week 1. 

And over the last six weeks, the Jets have held opposing quarterbacks to a 60.9 passer rating (two touchdowns, nine interceptions). That’s the lowest in the NFL in that span. 

4. With games against the Lions and Falcons up next, we might not be far from speculation that Getsy will be a prime head-coaching candidate after this season — and the subsequent lament that Fields will have to start all over again with a new coordinator in 2023. 

That’s the danger of hiring a defensive head coach with a quarterback prospect, but general manager Ryan Poles accounted for that when he hired Matt Eberflus, who laid out a plan beyond Getsy in the interview process. 

“That’s where Matt separated himself,” Poles said when he was hired in January. “He had a Plan A, Plan B, Plan C — because we all know that things get shaken up all the time. You get a great coordinator, and he’s [a] head coach quickly. Well, what happens after that? 

“He had a nice plan . . . that made sense to sustain success for a long period of time. It wasn’t short-sighted, where we have success — we saw what happened with Atlanta with [Kyle] Shanahan leaving, and then it crashes. What’s the progression of it? He had that laid out . . . and that set himself apart.”

5. Stat of the Week: The Bears are improving in another key offensive statistic — third-down conversions. They converted 10 of 16 third-down plays against the Dolphins and have improved to 10th in the NFL (43.4%). 

The Bears were 28th in the league in third-down conversions in the first five weeks of the season (36.1%). In the last four weeks, they are fourth (53.0%). 

6. Never underestimate the mediocrity of the NFL. 

7. If you’re into the idea that the Bears’ best plan in this rebuilding season is to develop Fields and lose games to get a high draft pick, Sunday was a near-perfect game. 

Fields was magnificent, and even though he failed in the end, his two late passes were on-target throws — the disputed pass-interference no-call on Claypool and a fourth-down drop by Equanimeous St. Brown, who is a long shot to be in the picture for 2023. 

8. Did You Know? The Bears lead the NFL with 54 rushes of 10 or more yards. That’s as many as they had in 17 games last season and already more than they’ve had in all but four of 30 seasons since the end of the Mike Ditka era — 2013 (60), 2017 (58), 2011 (58) and 2012 (57). 

Fields has 22 rushes of 10 or more yards (fourth-most in the league), and running back Khalil Herbert has 17 (eighth).

9. Josh McCown Ex-Bears Player of the Week Award: Six days after being traded to the Ravens, linebacker Roquan Smith had five tackles — stopping Alvin Kamara for gains of two, one and one yard in the first half to set the tone — in a victory over the Saints. 

Besides his five tackles, Smith’s presence seemed to infuse the Ravens with a purpose. The Ravens came in ranked 24th in the NFL in yards allowed (364.3 per game) but held the Saints, who came in fifth in total offense, to 243 yards — 151 below their season average of 394.4 yards. 

10. Bear-ometer: 7-10 — vs. Lions (W); at Falcons (W); at N.Y. Jets (L); vs. Packers (W); vs. Eagles (L); vs. Bills (L); at Lions (W); vs. Vikings (L). 

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