Bears 1st-and-10: Justin Fields still might have ‘it’ in crunch time

Despite progress in 2022, Fields has not developed a finishing touch — the Bears are 1-7 when Fields has a chance to tie or take the lead with 5 minutes or less left in the fourth quarter. But Peyton Manning was 1-6 in 1998. Aaron Rodgers was 0-8 in 2008, so ...

SHARE Bears 1st-and-10: Justin Fields still might have ‘it’ in crunch time
Bears quarterback Justin Fields celebrates a rushing touchdown Sunday against the Packers.

Bears quarterback Justin Fields celebrates a rushing touchdown Sunday against the Packers.

Michael Reaves/Getty Images

When Peyton Manning was a rookie in 1998, he established himself as a burgeoning star but couldn’t finish. 

When the Colts were within one score in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter with Manning at quarterback, they were 1-6. Manning’s passer rating was 30.2 with a low completion percentage (42.9%), one touchdown and five interceptions. 

After one particularly exasperating loss to the Seahawks in Week 16, when Manning threw four consecutive incompletions from the 7-yard line with less than a minute left, coach Jim Mora Sr. revealed his frustration. 

“We can’t be content with being close,” Mora told reporters. “We’re a young team, they say — baloney. Rookie quarterback — to hell with that. The bottom line is winning football games. We didn’t win today and we should have. It’s a combination of a lot of things, but there is absolutely no excuse for this football team to lose that game. Absolutely none.

“The bottom line is winning. You find a way to win. We get ahead and we can’t finish em off. That’s a bunch of baloney.” 

The Colts lost the next week to finish 3-13 and took running back Edgerrin James with the No. 5 overall pick (and traded Marshall Faulk). It wasn’t until the next year that they learned how to win — thanks to Manning’s blossoming connection with receiver Marvin Harrison. 

Manning wasn’t any better in crunch time in 1999 (a 30.7 passer rating in five games with a chance to tie or take the lead in the final five minutes), but it didn’t matter. The Colts went 3-2 in those games, 13-3 overall and were on their way to a long run of Super Bowl contention.

The Manning story could be a lesson for those fretting about the Bears’ inability to finish with Justin Fields at quarterback. In the final five minutes of the fourth quarter with a chance to tie or take the lead, Fields has a 37.7 passer rating, with no touchdowns and two interceptions — including another critical pick in a 28-19 loss to the Packers on Sunday at Soldier Field. 

Fields is 1-7 in those games, the only victory over the hapless Texans, when a Roquan Smith interception set up a four-play, zero-yard field-goal drive to win 23-20. 

Manning isn’t exactly a cherry-picking anomaly. Aaron Rodgers was 0-8 in crunch-time games as a first-year starter in 2008, with a 29.3 passer rating (no touchdowns, four interceptions). Joe Burrow was 0-3-1 with the Bengals in 2020 (85.1 rating, one touchdown, one interception). Josh Allen was 1-2 with the Bills in 2018 (54.3 rating, no touchdowns, one interception). Even Tom Brady, taking control of an accelerating train with the 2001 Patriots, was 2-2 (68.5 rating, one touchdown, one interception). 

They all eventually developed the “it” factor that could will a winning performance from their teams in critical moments. That doesn’t mean Fields will become that guy. But he’s shown enough this season to believe that with a better supporting cast, he can still get there. 

“That’s a good point. And I believe that to be true,” coach Matt Eberflus said. “I know the man inside after being with him for a year, and the grit he has and the talent he has. No question he’s going to get it done.” 

2 — The Bears’ inability to win close games, while helping them in the draft order, is not insignificant. But struggling teams rarely mature into big winners without major upgrades. The one Bears team that did was in 2004, when the Bears went from 5-11 to 11-5 with minimal roster improvements — left tackle John Tait, the return of safety Mike Brown, cornerback Nathan Vasher and caretaker quarterback Kyle Orton. 

But let the record show, that 5-11 team in 2004 struggled to finish, as well — losing seven of its last eight games and getting outscored 172-76. Things didn’t turn around until Lovie Smith’s defense kicked into gear in its second season, so . . . 

3 — The Bears had no sacks and no takeaways against the Packers — the second time that has happened this season. It also transpired in a 35-32 loss to the Dolphins on Nov. 6 at Soldier Field. 

The Bears have lost 14 consecutive games when they have neither a sack nor takeaway. Their last win was in 1995, a 27-24 victory over the Giants at the Meadowlands. 

Overall, NFL teams with no sacks or -takeaways are 1-16 this season and 7-121 (.055) over the last five seasons. 

4 — Rodgers could have had a field day against a makeshift Bears secondary that was missing four nickel-package starters. But cornerback Jaylon Johnson and four reserves — cornerbacks Jaylon Jones and Josh Blackwell and safeties Deandre Houston Carson and Elijah Hicks — mostly held up. 

Rodgers’ 182 passing yards and his 5.9 yards per pass were both his third-lowest in 30 starts against the Bears. His 58.1 completion percentage was fourth-lowest. Even Rodgers acknowledged they made it tougher on him than expected. 

“They did,” he said. “Jaylon is a premier player. But the other young guys played pretty well. So you’ve got to give them credit. 

“There were multiple times where I felt like, ‘Get out of the pocket, somebody’s going to come open in the scramble drill.’ And they locked down our guys. So they definitely deserve some credit for that.” 

5 — Former Bears safety Adrian Amos, who faced the Eagles’ Jalen Hurts and the Bears’ Fields in consecutive games while with the Packers, on the difference between the two: 

“[Fields is] faster than Hurts,” Amos said. “And it’s just different because Hurts has a different offense around him than Fields has. It’s a different team. When you go against somebody, you’re going against their whole team, not just one individual. I think the difference is probably that.” 

6 — This Explains A Lot Dept.: It’s probably no surprise that Rodgers is on a first-name basis with the officials — in this case, back judge Terrence Miles, when Rodgers was asked about a pass-interference penalty he was seeking on linebacker Jack Sanborn against tight end Robert Tonyan on a third-down incompletion in the end zone in the fourth quarter. 

“Bobby said he got tugged, but it must not have been big enough for Terrence to throw the flag there,” Rodgers said. 

7 — Never underestimate the mediocrity of the NFL.

8 — Jaxon Smith-Njigba Watch: The Ohio State wide receiver, who played with Fields as a freshman in 2020, declared for the 2023 draft after a hamstring injury limited him to three games this season. Smith-Njigba caught 95 passes for 1,606 yards and nine touchdowns in 2021. 

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper said Smith-Njigba would have been a top-10 pick if not for the injury — better than teammates Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, who went 10th and 11th in the draft this year. 

“He was the main guy. It wasn’t Olave and Wilson. People forget that,” Kiper said. “I remember an interview with Wilson, Olave and [quarterback C.J.] Stroud and they were [asked], ‘Who’s the great receiver here?’ They said, ‘We’re not. It’s that guy who’s got the most talent’ — and they both pointed to Smith-Njigba as the most talented in the group.” 

9 — Josh McCown Ex-Bears Player of the Week: Niners kicker Robbie Gould was 4-for-4 on field goals (47 43, 36 and 48 yards) and 3-for-3 on PATs for a team-high 15 points in a 33-12 victory over the Dolphins to move past former Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski into 10th place on the NFL’s all-time scoring list with 1,919 points.

10  — Bear-ometer: 5-12 — vs. Eagles (L); vs. Bills (L); at Lions (W); vs. Vikings (W)..

The Latest
Michael Daniels, 18, was standing on the sidewalk April 2 in the 8000 block of South Phillips Avenue when someone opened fire around 7:15 p.m., Chicago police said.
At least seven trains departing from or heading to Chicago were called off — four scheduled to run Friday and three more scheduled to leave Saturday.
The shooting happened in the West Side’s Harrison District, where there are more police traffic stops than anywhere else in the city.
White Sox general manager Chris Getz understands fans’ discontent with the Sox. Another year, another season devoted to talking about injuries to key guys for a Sox team that has gotten off to a 2-11 start.