5 Takeaways: Justin Fields makes his mark as an ascending star with Bears
CHICAGO – As Tua took a knee in victory formation and sent the Bears to 3-6, there was still a buzz inside of Soldier Field. This 35-32 loss to the Dolphins carried feelings of confidence for the future thanks to the play of Justin Fields.
Fields set an NFL single-game regular-season record Sunday for the most rushing yards by a quarterback (178), marked the longest running play by a quarterback in Bears franchise history with a sensational 61-yard touchdown run, and seemed to mark his place as an ascending star with a performance that inspired such hope.
Here are the five takeaways from the Bears’ loss to the Dolphins:
1. History for Fields
Those sentiments inside of Soldier Field were felt in the Bears’ locker room, too. They recognized what Fields is showing and the significance.
“It’s very exciting for the future,” Bears guard Teven Jenkins said of Fields.
This wasn’t some series of flashes for Fields or a blip in his young career. It’s marked progress in his development and proof that his work is all paying off.
Fields is proving himself as a potential franchise quarterback for Chicago.
“Obviously, a huge step for Justin Fields and the franchise today,” said Bears head coach Matt , who both pointed to the disappointment of this loss while also understanding what’s at stake for his quarterback.
“We’re building our football team. We have a young football team. We’re building upon that and the centerpiece of that is the quarterback. It’s the way it is in the NFL.”
The 23-year-old Fields has made this considerable jump during his second NFL season because of increased comfort and confidence in the system set by first-year offensive coordinator Luke Getsy. Fields has taken charge of a scheme that plays to his strength and transformed through this second season.
Most notably, Fields is starting to thrive within the structure of Getsy’s offense and also evolved with his own decision making — when he should stand in for a throw and when he must tuck the football and run.
Late in the second quarter, Fields stayed in the pocket and dropped a dime to wide receiver Darnell Mooney despite pressure in his facemask. It turned into a 16-yard touchdown connection. Then early in the third quarter, Fields escaped the pocket on third-and-6 and made magic happen with a 61-yard touchdown run.
Fields finished 17-of-28 for 123 yards, 3 passing touchdowns and that remarkable rushing score.
“I think I’m just growing, getting better each and every week,” Fields said. “My main goal right now is just to continue to do that. Continue to trend up.”
Mooney had a more direct way of describing Fields’ growth.
“The Madden ratings better go up,” Mooney said.
“He’s a dominant player. Everybody knows that.”
On Tuesday, Poles said that deal came in part because of his belief that Fields is trending positively. general manager Ryan Poles made a bold trade when he acquired wide receiver Chase Claypool in a deal with the Steelers. Chicago sent a second-round pick back to Pittsburgh in exchange for the 24-year-old Claypool.
During this foundational season for Poles and , there’s no more important task for the Bears than establishing whether Fields is worth their investment as a cornerstone — the young quarterback who’s ready to lead sustained success.
Fields revealed himself in a historic performance and is starting to prove he can be a star for Chicago.
2. The Chase is on
After making their ambitious trade for Claypool, the Bears were uncertain whether he could play a significant role on Sunday.
As it turned out, Claypool was willing to earn his place in the Bears’ plans against the Dolphins. He stepped onto the field on Chicago’s third offensive play and hauled in his first reception. Claypool finished with 2 catches for 13 yards on 6 targets.
Claypool said he was able to step in with the Bears’ offense because of dedicated efforts to master the scheme. He spent six or seven hours each day studying this system and getting a grasp on this new playbook.
“It was a whirlwind, for sure,” Claypool said. “Trying to catch up, early mornings, late nights.
“It’s a cool experience to have a team want you like that and be excited for you to get involved.”
Part of Claypool’s place for the Bears’ offense Sunday was as a decoy. His 6-foot-4, 238-pound frame drew the attention of the Dolphins’ defense and offered a threat to account for each snap. It’s a new element for Chicago’s offense, which simply didn’t previously have a dynamic physical threat of Claypool’s caliber. Mooney, the No. 1 target to this point, stands at 5-foot-11, 174 pounds.
The Bears envision Claypool being an impact player for Fields and the passing game, a building block perhaps for years to come. He was eager to step onto the field with this new team and produce in his debut.
“It was like my first day playing football once again,” Claypool said.
3. No call
Fields was seeking to cap his historic day with a victory in the fourth quarter and the Bears trailing 35-32. Facing a third-and-10 from his own territory, Fields targeted Claypool downfield. He seemed to be pulled backwards by defender Keion Crossen but pass interference was not called.
“That was definitely P.I., for sure,” Fields said. “He just missed it. Can’t do anything about it. Just got to move on to the next play.”
The Bears still had one last chance on fourth-and-10 but Fields’ pass to wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown was dropped. The Dolphins went into victory formation from there and ran out the clock.
Claypool declined to say whether he felt it was pass interference but seemed to believe a flag should’ve been thrown.
“You feel something, but it doesn’t really matter,” Claypool said. “I know what I kind of think happened. Just got to play the next down and see what happens.”
4. Sanborn’s first start
When the Bears traded away linebacker Roquan Smith to the Ravens on Monday, they were dealing a trusted team captain and critical leader on the defense. They took the field Sunday with a void to fill at linebacker.
“We don’t really think about those type of things,” Bears safety Eddie Jackson said. “We just rock with the players we got, put the trust in the players we got on the field.
“Big shoes to fill but we got to step up.”
The next man up at linebacker for the Bears is rookie Jack Sanborn, an undrafted free-agent pickup out of Wisconsin who hails from Luke Zurich.
Sanborn took over at the middle linebacker position Sunday for his first NFL start, with veteran Nicholas Morrow sliding to the weakside linebacker role that Smith previously occupied.
The 22-year-old Sanborn finished with 7 tackles and made an impression on his team.
“I thought he was really good,” said. “I know in the run game when the ball is right there in front of you, he’s right where he’s supposed to be. He’s an instinctual player and he’s physical, and I thought he was around the ball in the run game for sure.”
5. No trick or treat
One play before Fields found Mooney for a 16-yard touchdown late in the second quarter, he handed off to Mooney for a 2-yard gain then ran towards the end zone without any defender in sight.
Mooney was preparing to throw the football to Fields, who could’ve finished this game with a passing, rushing and receiving score. Instead, Mooney faced pressure from the Dolphins’ defensive front and made the decision to carry the football.
“That’s supposed to be a trick play,” Fields said. “But, of course, we didn’t have time.
“He did the smart thing on that and ran the ball.”
Had that play come to fruition, Fields would’ve become the fifth player in NFL history to record passing, rushing and receiving touchdowns. It’s a feat accomplished last week by 49ers star running back Christian McCaffrey.
The only Bears player to ever hit the touchdown triple crown in a game was the great Walter Payton.