5 Takeaways: Justin Fields proving he belongs as Bears put stamp on growth
CHICAGO – For all the burden that the Bears have carried throughout this season, they could’ve fallen.
Each player in that locker room could’ve simply checked out, dismissing the messages of hope and promise of head coach Matt Eberflus and looking ahead to an offseason of inevitable change. Instead, the Bears have remained fighting for what’s to come.
The Bears earned a 28-13 victory over the Lions on Sunday at Soldier Field, marking consecutive wins for the first time since late in the 2021 season. Eberflus is no longer just preaching progress of his team. Now, progress is being revealed.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Eberflus said.
Here are the five takeaways from the Bears’ second straight win:
1. Fields making a clear case
Late in the third quarter, the Bears put their faith in quarterback Justin Fields and the offense for a 4th-and-13 play from the Lions’ 38-yard line. In looking to finish strong with a lead, Eberflus elected for a bold move.
Fields called a hard count that drew the Lions offsides, and he recognized the opportunity. He took the shotgun snap, backpedaled in the pocket and delivered a strike to top target DJ Moore. It was a 38-yard touchdown connection and one of Fields’ best passing plays of his three-year career.
It was a game-changing play that allowed the Bears to break a tie and eventually finish out this victory. For the 24-year-old Fields, it was an example of how he has continued to improve.
“He’s still growing and getting better every week,” Moore said. “These last four games, you might see some spectacular out of him.”
Fields is closing out this pivotal third season of his career with quite the statement, proving that he’s a rising quarterback in this league – and making a strong case as the Bears’ future.
Four games remain in this season for the Bears, who are grasping the dream of winning out and marking a 9-8 finish. It’s undoubtedly a longshot, though one that becomes just a bit more possible by beating the first-place Lions.
Fields led the way for the Bears, throwing for 223 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 58 yards and a score. His increased comfort and strengthened command are clear – the crucial signs of development towards becoming a franchise quarterback.
In his last 17 starts, Fields has thrown for 3,004 yards, 25 touchdowns and just 11 interceptions, this while rushing for 1,237 yards and 8 scores.
Fields is leading the Bears forward with the poise and demeanor of a rising star.
“We’ve always had confidence,” Fields said. “If you don’t have confidence in yourself, you have no shot.
“We know who we are as a team, and we know what we can do as a team.”
Last week, Fields acknowledged the uncertainty he’s facing ahead this offseason. The Bears are in line to land the first overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft courtesy of the Panthers (1-12), who lost their sixth straight game on Sunday. With that likelihood, general manager Ryan Poles must decide whether to select his team’s next young quarterback or invest in Fields’ future.
For his part, Fields said he takes no offense to the speculation and what looms ahead. But he seems to be taking control of this decision for himself and the Bears.
If Fields continues to showcase this type of progress and lead the Bears to victories, he will leave no doubt of his place as Chicago’s future at quarterback.
2. Proving progress
Even during the most difficult moments of this turbulent season, Eberflus has stated his belief that the Bears were improving. Far too often, these claims seemed impossible to believe.
Eberflus thanked the Bears after this victory for how they have stayed the course during a year of adversity and remained invested in each other. It’s why a win like this means so much.
“To have a win like this, it’s proof for those guys,” Eberflus said. “It’s proof for our staff, it’s proof for the Chicago Bears fans.
“It’s coming in the right direction, and you can certainly feel that on the field.”
Early in the fourth quarter, the Bears claimed a 25-13 point lead after Fields’ 11-yard touchdown run. It set up a similar scenario to the one that transpired three weeks ago at Ford Field, with Chicago squandering a 12-point lead and losing 31-26 in heartbreaking fashion.
Along the west sidelines of Soldier Field, the Bears were struck by this unfolding once again. This time, they were determined to close out a victory.
Linebacker Tremaine Edmunds hauled in an interception of Lions quarterback Jared Goff on a 4th-and-24 heave downfield, a play that sealed a winning day for the Bears.
“We know we can play with any team,” said cornerback Jaylon Johnson, who recorded his fourth interception of the season. “We just got to do what we got to do to finish.
“Just going out and finishing, not shooting ourselves in the foot, and we’re doing that lately.”
Had the Bears folded with weeks still to go in this season, it would’ve been the greatest indictment on Eberflus as the leader of a culture. There would be no growth to tout and certainly no prospects of a turnaround. President Kevin Warren would’ve known well he has to clean house. Instead, Eberflus kept his players and coaches engaged and their persistence has been rewarded.
Who’s to tell these Bears that they won’t finish 9-8 and push their way into the playoffs? This team has successfully pushed through its struggles and is now believing in what’s ahead.
3. Go, DJ
When the play call came through from offensive coordinator Luke Getsy to the Bears’ offensive huddle, there was genuine excitement. They couldn’t wait to run this play.
It was a special design they had run many times before in practice, with Moore lined up in a wildcat formation and Fields flanked out to the left. Fields shifted towards the snap to Moore, who veered off to the left and went down the sidelines for a 16-yard score.
“I’m so glad Luke called that play,” Fields said.
It was the thrilling finish to an eight-play, 69-yard opening scoring drive by the Bears that started this game with a statement.
Moore was not targeted in the passing game during the first half. The Bears’ offense seemed to shift in the second half by prioritizing Moore, who hauled in 6 receptions for 68 yards and a touchdown. Fields targeted him 10 times, including on the 4th-and-13 strike for a back-breaking 36-yard score.
For Moore, who was traded from the struggling Panthers as part of the blockbuster deal last March, the improvements of this team are evident.
“Heck yeah,” Moore said. “I remember when it was an up-and-down roller coaster and we just stacked two wins back-to-back.
“We got to win out. That’s our whole mentality.”
4. Tez Effect
Star pass rusher Montez Sweat has been worth every bit of that second-round pick traded to the Commanders, plus every penny of that four-year, $98-million deal signed with the Bears in November.
Sweat recorded a pair of shared sacks in this game to reach a new career-best with 10 sacks on the season. He also registered five tackles and four quarterback hits on Goff.
“That was a goal that I’ve had ever since I got in the league,” Sweat said of hitting double-digit sacks. “So, it definitely was a good day for me.”
The Bears’ defensive identity has been fortified by the addition of Sweat, who has consistently disrupted the pocket and created problems for opposing quarterbacks. On Sunday, Chicago marked three consecutive games of multiple turnovers forced and nine interceptions defensively – including five thrown by Goff.
Edmunds pointed to the impact Sweat has brought for the Bears as part of this defensive turnaround.
“It speaks for itself,” Edmunds said. “Obviously, a guy that plays with a high motor, a guy that can put a lot of pressure on the quarterback. He’s helping us out a lot, just affecting the quarterback, speeding up things. You’re seeing guys make plays off that.”
5. The Edge of Seventeen
Safety Jaquan Brisker had a historic individual effort on Sunday, recording 17 total tackles. It’s the most ever by a Bears defensive back since 1960.
Eberflus was blown away when he learned of Brisker’s production.
“Sounds like my college stats,” Eberflus said. “For crying out loud.