It was there at Soldier Field last Sunday. It didn’t result in a win, but it was there. The electricity, the oohs, the aahs, the dazzling, the breathtaking type of football that Bears fans have been clawing at their walls waiting to see from quarterback Justin Fields.
He made some great looking tight-window throws — especially one to wide receiver Marquise Goodwin on a third-and-13 early in the third quarter — but that’s not why the Bears traded up in the 2021 draft to select Fields in the first round. They made the move for a special athlete who stands out in a world of special athletes, and Fields did so on two runs last week.
His first run did not get the Bears the first down they needed on third-and-8, but it turned the volume up on play-by-play announcer Adam Amin’s voice as Fields spun between three 49ers defenders, including Nick Bosa and all-pro linebacker Fred Warner. That run was only for a few yards to escape a sack, but his fourth-quarter touchdown run is the moment Bears fans had been waiting for since April.
It was fourth-and-1 at the 49ers’ 20-yard-line. Fields faked left, went right, and was met by four Niners defenders. He stumbled but regained his balance, dodged a defender in the backfield, and then pulled a Barry Sanders. Fields cut back across the entire play, made five more defenders miss, and ran up the sideline for a touchdown to temporarily give the Bears the lead. The roar from Soldier Field exploded like the Taste of Chicago fireworks show.
Now, what the Bears and Fields don’t need is to follow this performance up with another dud against a good defense. Fields was solid in the Bears’ win against the Las Vegas Raiders, and competed with Aaron Rodgers for the majority of their loss to the Green Bay Packers.
Then came Week 7 against the Buccaneers.
Fields couldn’t get anything working in the 38-3 loss until the Tampa Bay game was well out of reach. He turned the ball over five times, threw three interceptions, and lost two fumbles, but he did not receive much help from his team other than running back Khalil Herbert. Fields claims the first interception in that game came after the coaches told him he had a free play because the Buccaneers had 12 men on the field. There was no penalty called, and wide receiver Allen Robinson fell. Then, the story of Fields’ rookie season: constant pressure. On the two strip sacks, he had barely two seconds to release the football.
The Buccaneers’ loss was the second time this season that Fields and the Bears’ offense looked inept, the other being Week 2 against the Cleveland Browns. Now they’re facing a Monday Night Football matchup on the road against the Pittsburgh Steelers, who have the 10th-best defense in the NFL, per Football Outsiders, and rush the passer very well.
The playoffs aren’t completely out of reach since seven teams from each conference qualify — that’s how the Bears got in last season after losing six games in a row — but that shouldn’t be their main goal the rest of this season. They need to focus on doing whatever it takes to ensure Fields continues to improve. That means a win would be nice on Monday, but what the Bears must avoid is the offense falling on its face on national television.
What should help prevent the Bears’ offense from regressing is rookie offensive tackle Larry Borom. He was slated to start at left tackle once second-round pick Tevin Jenkins’ back problems first kept him out of training camp. Then Borom went on injured reserve before the start of the regular season, and they’ve been scrambling at the tackle position ever since. Borom played for the first time against the 49ers and was strong. That, along with improved play from current starting left tackle Jason Peters, should help give Fields some time to make good decisions.
Also against the 49ers, the Bears ran more bootleg and play-action. Before that game, the Bears were running significantly less play-action than two other teams with rookie quarterbacks, the New England Patriots and Jacksonville Jaguars. Fields took advantage of play-action against the 49ers. This, and the additional bootlegs, resulted in Fields not just running in circles in the pocket to avoid the pass rush, but being able to get into a rhythm by running for easy yards. With a better feel for the game, he was finally able to make the spectacular plays that the Bears drafted him to make.
Last week’s loss was as encouraging as any loss could be for the Bears, even though the 49ers ran through their defense at will. The Bears and their fans got a glimpse of what Fields could be as a QB1. Now, the team has to do whatever it takes to keep his confidence as high as possible and avoid a third game this season in which the offense is a non-factor.