5 Takeaways: Justin Fields provides a brutally honest assessment of his performance in Bears win
CHICAGO – In the aftermath of victory at Soldier Field, the Bears seemed to recognize there’s great work to be done.
The Bears earned a 23-20 win over the Texans on Sunday, marking a 2-1 start to the season that seems bittersweet. Kicker Cairo Santos booted a 30-yard field goal to secure the victory as time expired on the clock.
Here are five takeaways from Soldier Field:
1. Concerns rise for Fields
Bears quarterback Justin Fields has a refreshing way of recognizing the big picture. He understands what the city of Chicago hopes for his future — and is striving to become a franchise quarterback.
But it just hasn’t come together yet for Fields and Sunday’s latest poor performance underscored concerns for his development. He finished 8-of-17 for 106 yards and 2 interceptions.
“Straight up, I played — I want to say the ‘A’ word but I’m not going to do that,” Fields said. “But I just played like trash. I played terrible. Really, I just got to be better.”
The Bears picked up Fields with the rushing game, going for 281 yards on the ground. Running back Khalil Herbert, who stepped in for the injured David Montgomery (right ankle/knee), rushed 20 times for 157 yards and 2 scores. For his part, Fields carried 8 times for 47 yards.
But Fields is keenly aware of his role in Chicago. The No. 11 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, Fields carries expectations of becoming the quarterback that the Bears have not seen before. He embraces the spotlight as a former prized high school recruit, a star at Ohio State and now a 23-year-old NFL quarterback in a city starved for football success.
Fields made the same mistakes Sunday that so many Bears quarterbacks before him have made. His 2 interceptions were each made into tight coverage downfield and overthrown from the intended receiver. There were moans and groans inside Soldier Field for each pick because they’re far too familiar.
Do the Bears trust Fields and that he can lead them to victories? That was certainly worth wondering on Sunday. In the second quarter, offensive coordinator Luke Getsy called for a draw play to running back Trestan Ebner on a third-and-6 play from deep in their own territory.
On a third-and-6 for the Bears at the Texans’ 23-yard line, Getsy did call for a pass with Fields and he was sacked as the pocket crumbled around him. Santos booted his second of three field goals from 50 yards out, bailing out the offensive line. It reminded that Getsy’s feelings for this passing game also include the protection.
The Bears faced another third-and-6 on the first play of the fourth quarter and Fields badly misfired in coverage to top target Darnell Mooney, marking his second pick of the game.
It was all fresh on Fields’ mind as he looked forward to studying film on Sunday night, just hours after a disappointing personal performance.
“I played terrible,” Fields said. “I’m going through the film tonight, see what I could’ve done better. Get better for my teammates.
“I played terrible today. I’m going to get better. We’re going to get better.”
2. Next man up
In the victorious locker room, Herbert approached Montgomery and told him that performance was dedicated to him.
The Bears hold Montgomery in such high regard because they recognize the way that he works, how he has overcome adversity in his life and earned his way to this place. Herbert saw the only way to step in for Montgomery was to play like him.
Herbert’s career-best 157 yards on the ground marked the highest rushing total by a Bears running back since Jordan Howard carried for 167 yards against the Ravens in 2017. It was an especially impressive performance considering Herbert did not tally his first carry until midway through the first quarter.
“Always ready when my time is called,” Herbert said of his performance. “Ready for any opportunity I get. Just trying to make the most of it.
“I come in with that mindset every week. Whether it’s one carry, 20 carries, just try to make the most of that and make a play with what I get.”
Bears coach Matt Eberflus indicated the initial prognosis on Montgomery’s ankle/knee injury was “good” and said the team is hopeful that he will be day-to-day. The team will issue its next injury report on Wednesday afternoon.
If Montgomery is forced to miss time, the Bears know they have a capable rusher in Herbert who’s ready to carry the load.
“That was no surprise,” Fields said. “We know what kind of player Khalil is. He’s a hard worker, he’s a great running back, he’s an even greater person. I’m proud of him today, proud of the way he ran the ball, proud of the way our offensive line blocked for him.”
3. Superstar performance
It was only fitting that Bears linebacker Roquan Smith produced the game-changing play in Sunday’s game, hauling in an interception from Texans quarterback Davis Mills with 1:05 remaining in regulation.
It marked a terrific effort from Smith, who finished with 16 total tackles, 2 tackles for a loss and the pick. After missing practice this week with a hip injury, Smith was active and dominant for the Bears’ defense.
Smith admitted that he is still finding full speed after missing most of training camp during a contract dispute. But Eberflus views the adjustment for Smith to be bigger than just conditioning.
“I just think he’s getting comfortable in the defense,” Eberflus said. “I thought the linebackers played downhill. It’s a big difference between going from 3-4 to 4-3. I’ve had a lot of linebackers — because I switched over when I was in Dallas and switched over when it went to Indy — they were 3-4 going to a 4-3 and what happens is it’s different. You play off the defensive linemen in front of you a little bit different.
“It’s more of a speed position, more of a downhill, attacking position rather than a lateral slide position. I just think he’s starting to really feel that. He’s starting to feel that downhill speed that he can get and it’s coming along.”
4. Timeouts in the pocket
The Bears walked to their locker room for halftime hearing boos at Soldier Field. There was a great frustration as they ended a potential drive at their own 28-yard line following a first-down conversion.
Eberflus said he deserves the blame for that decision. After Hebert carried for nine yards and a first down on third-and-1 with 46 seconds remaining, Eberflus was late to react to a substitution by the Texans with 35 seconds remaining and wasn’t able to shift the Bears from 13 personnel (three tight ends, one running back and one receiver) into 11 personnel (one tight end, one running back and three receivers).
Instead, the Bears allowed the clock to tick down to the end of the first half.
“I should have called time out at 35 seconds and we would have been fine,” Eberflus said. “I have to be better in that situation.”
5. Still rotating
After playing the first two games of the season with a large protective cast on his right hand, Bears veteran offensive lineman Lucas Patrick had it removed. But the team did not shift him back to center.
The Bears started Sam Mustipher at center for a third consecutive game and continued to rotate Patrick at right guard along with second-year offensive lineman Teven Jenkins.
It’s not clear if the Bears will settle on a starter at right guard — or if this rotation will continue on.
“Whatever the team needs me to do, that’s what I’m going to do,” Jenkins said. “I’m not going to fight it; I’m not going to do anything. I’m going to do my job.”