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5 Bears Takeaways: Justin Fields’ unique view on historic performance

1 year agoChris Emma

CHICAGO – After Jalen Hurts knelt in victory formation and marked a seventh straight loss for the Bears, he greeted Justin Fields at midfield for a hug and words of encouragement. 


The Bears fell 25-20 to the high-flying Eagles at Soldier Field, marking a 3-11 record this season and seven losses by one score. It’s the familiar refrain of a foundational year for the Bears but one marked by the continued ascension of Fields, who looked every bit the star of his counterpart Hurts.


Here are the five takeaways from Soldier Field. 


1. Fields runs to historic company 

Justin Fields grew up in Georgia watching the great Michael Vick electrify the game of football in his prime with the Falcons. He has witnessed the rise of Lamar Jackson as an MVP with the Ravens and one of the brightest stars in this sport. On Sunday, the 23-year-old Fields joined their company. 


Fields became the third quarterback to ever rush for 1,000 yards in a single season, hitting that mark with 15 carries for 95 yards on Sunday. He is 206 yards away from Jackson’s record of 1,206 rushing yards set in 2019.  


Fields credited his Bears teammates and coaches for allowing him to reach this feat, but he also has a unique view of what this means. 


“I don’t plan on rushing for 1,000 yards every year,” Fields said when asked if this mark is a goal of his for the future.  


“But I’m going to improvise and try to do whatever I can to put points on the board as possible. I don’t plan on rushing for 1,000 yards every year.” 


For Fields, rushing success is secondary to what he strives for in the future. He hopes to become the type of dual-threat star that the 24-year-old Hurts has now become for the Eagles, a legitimate MVP favorite leading the NFL’s best team towards the playoffs. 


Hurts finished Sunday 22-of-37 for 315 yards and 2 interceptions, a poor performance by the high standards he has set but still good enough for a victory. Each time the Eagles seemed to need a play, Hurts found top wide receivers A.J. Brown or DeVonta Smith, who accumulated 307 combined receiving yards against the Bears. Hurts also carried 17 times for 61 yards and 3 rushing scores.  


Fields was an efficient 14-of-21 for 152 passing yards and 2 touchdowns in addition to his 95 rushing yards. He made the most out of an offense that was missing wide receivers Chase Claypool (knee), N’Keal Harry (back) and Darnell Mooney (ankle; injured reserve).  


“He’s doing an excellent job,” Bears head coach Matt Eberflus said of Fields. “He’s doing a really good job of leading our football team. I think it’s where he’s growing the most over the second half of the season. He’s just getting more and more confident as he goes.” 


Said Bears tight end Cole Kmet: “When you’ve got a guy like that, he’s always fighting, and you know you’ve got a chance.” 


For the undermanned Bears, even having that chance against these Eagles was impressive in its own right.  


The Bears picked off Hurts twice after he arrived to Soldier Field with just 3 interceptions on the season. They forced three turnovers and battled against a championship-caliber foe. But needing one more stop, Chicago allowed a 12-yard completion from Hurts to Brown with two minutes remaining and Philadelphia ran out the remaining time on the clock. 


That’s the difference between the Bears and the Eagles, and it’s a sizable one – Hurts has the dynamic talent around him and plays for a complete team, while Fields is looking towards the future.  


“No matter what our record is, the coaches come in the same every day, the players come in the same every day, and we work,” Fields said. “That’s kind of all we know. No matter what our record is, what’s in the past, we come in every day and we show up – and we show up every day to get better. As long as we do that, we’ll get better. Those wins are going to start coming, for sure.” 


2. Eberflus’ perspective 


Matt Eberflus understands it. The Bears team he is leading in this transitional year was not one built to contend just yet. 


Eberflus is leading what he hopes is the transformation of a roster culture he inherited. Each needed significant rehabilitations. Though the Bears have fallen in seven consecutive games and appear at least on paper to be a struggling football team, Eberflus is looking beyond this season.  


“You have to have perspective,” Eberflus said. “When you’re in the game, I think it’s obviously 100% getting after it by any means necessary. And then after the game, you have to evaluate the performance. The game is the game now – if we win by five or you lose by five, then you have to have that perspective. How do you get better next week? Each individual and each unit. 


“You can look at different teams in the past. Everybody has to go through this. We’re in the process of doing that right now. It’s more about the work habits of each guy and the work habits of the units and having those championship work habits. That to me is the most important thing, because that’s what you can stand on. 


“It’s always going to be there and it’s never going anywhere. As you get going, as you start executing better, finishing games better, wins will start to stack. You always have to have that. If you don’t have that, it’s not going to work. But we do have that. We have it and our guys are working their tails off. We have that foundation that we’re building right now. 


“We’re heading in the right direction.” 


The hope this season for Eberflus and first-year general manager Ryan Poles – who hired him as head coach in late January – was to set that foundation while developing and evaluating a young roster. The strides from Fields in his second season have certainly underscored the hope that the Bears are positioned for success. But there are great needs all across Chicago’s depth chart heading into this offseason. 


The Bears secured a Top 5 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft by dropping Sunday’s game. They are well positioned with more than $125 million in projected salary cap space.  


It’s part of why Eberflus stands confident in what’s to come for the Bears. 


3. Cornerstone 


For the first time this season, the Bears elected to have top cornerback Jaylon Johnson travel with a wide receiver. That was A.J. Brown, one of the toughest matchups in the NFL. 


Brown finished with 9 receptions on season-high 16 targets, though a 68-yard reception in the fourth quarter helped boost an impressive day. Johnson held his own with a difficult challenge, finishing with 3 pass break-ups and performing like a top cornerback. 


“That’s going to be a tough matchup for any corner,” Eberflus said. “That’s one of the top receivers in the league. He’s got a big body. He’s very competitive, very strong. 


“Jaylon did a really good job.” 


Johnson suffered a rib injury on the 68-yard completion to Brown and did not return. The extent of the injury is not clear and more information should be available this week. 


The 23-year-old Johnson has a matchup this Saturday to look forward to as the Bills (11-3) arrive at Soldier Field with another elite wide receiver in Stefon Diggs. The final two games of the season include opportunities against Amon-Ra St. Brown (Lions) and Justin Jefferson (Vikings).  


Then comes an offseason in which Johnson can hope to command the long-term contract a top cornerback merits. He’s entering a contract season in 2023 and hopeful to stay in Chicago for the future. 


“Oh, 100%,” Johnson said last week. “I hope they feel the same way about me. We’ll see. It will be a crazy situation to be in different colors than orange and blue. I’m just looking forward to hopefully having that extension and carrying something on and continuing to be a Bear throughout my career.” 


4. Dropping the ball 


Rookie wide receiver Velus Jones Jr. has endured a frustrating first year in NFL. A Sunday that should’ve produced a key opportunity brought more miscues.  


Jones turned a rushing play in the third quarter into his 3rd fumble in just 9 games this season, failing to secure the football with his carry and turning it over. He had only 1 reception for 3 yards, adding to a total of only 4 catches on the year.  


“Nobody would be happy over a turnover but just a part of the game,” Jones said. “A lot of things are going to happen if you play this sport. A lot of things don’t go your way. But it’s all about how you come back and prepare for the next. That’s behind me now. There’s nothing I can do about it now but give it a positive attitude and keep coming back to work.” 


A 3rd-round pick to the Bears in April’s NFL Draft, Jones was brought in with hopes of being a game-changing threat at wide receiver and a potential key target in the offense for Fields. Instead, he has been a liability and lost the faith of his team. 


“I don’t like that,” Eberflus said. “I don’t like it. I don’t like when guys lose the football. It’s not good. Guys have to do a better job securing the ball.” 


5. Injuries take their toll 


The Bears have suffered through a costly season on the injury front, and that unfortunate trend continued Sunday. 


Bears right guard Teven Jenkins suffered a neck injury early in the game, leaving on a stretcher and being taken to the hospital for further evaluation. While the Bears were still awaiting further details, Eberflus said the early reports were “encouraging.” 


Rookie linebacker Jack Sanborn was carted away with a left ankle injury that appeared to be serious. Further information should be available this week. In addition to Johnson (rib) leaving the game, the Bears lost wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown to a concussion on their first series. 


The Bears face a short turnaround this week as they host the Bills in a Saturday contest from Soldier Field. 

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