CHICAGO — Elusive and athletically gifted, Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields didn’t scramble away from the harsh truth about his discouraging performance.
It was another troubling game by the former first-round draft pick and Ohio State star inherited by the Bears’ new regime of coach Matt Eberflus and general manager Ryan Poles.
While Fields has the requisite size, speed, arm strength, and toughness working in his favor, his accuracy, field vision, and decision-making skills are not up to the standard of an NFL starting quarterback. He stared down his primary read, failing to look off the defense as he was intercepted twice by instinctive Houston Texans rookie safety Jalen Pitre.
If not for star linebacker Roquan Smith’s clutch late interception of Texans quarterback Davis Mills to seal the game and a ground-and-pound running game that piled up 281 yards and two touchdowns on 40 punishing carries, the Bears don’t manufacture a 23-20 victory Sunday at Soldier Field.
‘I played like trash’
Fields completed just 7 of 18 passes for 106 yards, no touchdowns, and two interceptions while being sacked five times and hit nine times. He had a putrid, career-worst 27.7 passer rating. By halftime, Fields completed just 4 of 11 throws for 45 yards with one interception for an 11.6 passer rating.
The Bears won in spite of Fields, not because of him. He rushed for 47 yards on five carries, but that’s the only bright spot for a second-year quarterback who needs to prove himself to management to be their long-term QB1. Make no mistake, this was a setback, and Fields acknowledged that fact. Many of the sacks were on Fields because of a lack of awareness.
“Everybody in the stadium knows I didn’t play as well as I wanted to,” Fields said. “Straight up, I just played like, I want to say the A-word, but I’m not gonna do that. I just played like trash. I played terrible. Really just gotta be better.”
The Bears squandered a 10-0 advantage as Fields overthrew tight end Cole Kmet and was picked off by Pitre, but the equally hapless Texans squandered a red zone opportunity when Mills forced a throw to wide receiver Brandin Cooks and safety Eddie Jackson intercepted the pass.
“A lot of things,” Fields said when asked for specifics on his issues.
Fields then sailed another pass in the fourth quarter, overthrowing wide receiver Darnell Mooney as Pitre picked him off again.
“First one, I just missed it,” Fields said. “Cole was wide open, I just missed it. Second one, I got pressure, saw Cover 2, (middle linebacker Christian Kirksey) was running with Darnell. When I saw that, I got hit while I was throwing, so next time I’ve gotta take the checkdown. So that’s one thing that I’m going to work on this week: Getting pressure, boom, check down.
“But yeah, at that time I wanted to get the ball to Darnell, he was running with the Mike linebacker, so I wanted to get the ball to him back-shoulder or something like that, ball sailed too high.”
For an organization looking for hope under center, Fields isn’t providing much, if any, at this time. The entire season is a treatise on his potential, and he isn’t displaying much right now.
Fields was the lone starter in the NFL to throw less than 20 passes in the first two weeks of the season. He ranks last in the NFL in passing yards.
Although the Bears are off to a 2-1 start, it isn’t because of Fields. He has completed just 51.1 percent of his throws for 297 yards, two touchdowns, four interceptions, and a 50.0 passer rating. As a rookie when he had 10 interceptions and a 72.8 passer rating, it wasn’t entirely on Fields, and it’s not entirely on him now as he adapts to new offensive coordinator Luke Getsy’s scheme.
“It’s early right now, but I can guarantee you all the guys in the locker room on the offense aren’t gonna make that excuse,” Fields said. “You can really throw that out the window for me.”
Fields has thrown 14 interceptions in 15 career games. He’s standing in the pocket as if he has eternity to throw.
“On any unit, it’s always everybody,” Bears coach Matt Eberflus said in defending Fields. “You can never just point to one guy. I don’t think that’s the answer. It never is. It’s the protection, it’s the route combinations being in sync — it’s everything.
“I think when you are working with a young quarterback in a new offense, I think the people around him have to be solid. The defense has to be really good and special teams, we’ve got to be awesome and, what you do is you support that quarterback while he’s growing. And while he’s going through this, and there’s going to be good and there’s going to be things that he has to improve on, but that’s on the whole football team.”
Roquan Smith saves the day
Smith made up for Fields’ shortcomings.
He pounced on a pass tipped by defensive lineman Angelo Blackson, leading up to Cairo Santos’ game-winning field goal as the Bears defeated former Chicago coach Lovie Smith.
The interception came after Smith missed an entire week of practice due to a hip injury. He returned it 18 yards and celebrated the interception by tossing the football into the stands.
“It was big-time just being available, but I was focused all week because I knew I was going to give myself a shot to play in the game,” Smith said. “I still wasn’t all the way there but, hey, halfway is better than no way. I’m happy.
“I couldn’t believe it. It fell right to me. They say catch the ones that come right to you, and I did it and the rest is history.”
Smith has something to prove after contract extension talks hit a wall and he wound up returning to practice in August after a “hold-in” didn’t trigger a deal. He got off to a slow start, looking rusty the first two games of the season. Against the Texans, Smith had a game-high 16 tackles, two for losses.
“It’s big-time,” Smith said. “I’ve showcased what I can do year in and year out. Not having camp, you know. First two games still working my way in, but, hey, third game normally feeling myself out. So I think here on out you can expect some big things.
“I feel like I can always step it up a notch, just like today I felt like I could have done a couple more things. I missed a tackle. So, I’m always hungry to get better because, hey, I’m on a one-year deal essentially. So, I’m just trying to do everything I can to do what I need to do.”
Smith celebrated with an impromptu toss of the football.
“To all my supporters,” he said. “I threw it to all of them, and saying F.U. to all the ones that don’t.”
David Montgomery injured
Bears standout running back David Montgomery left the game with ankle and knee injuries, but Eberflus said the prognosis is “good” and characterized his status as day to day.
In relief of Montgomery, backup Khalil Herbert rushed for a career-high 157 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries.
“He’s good,” Herbert said of his text messages with Montgomery. “He’s in good spirits. “Just really have to hold it down, told him that was for him. Got to hold it down and help the team win and find a way to win.”
Back to Justin Fields
A week ago, Fields completed just 7 of 11 passes for 70 yards, no touchdowns, and one interception.
It’s obvious the Bears don’t want to entrust much to Fields with how he’s missing open receivers and overthrowing passes.
“After the two picks, it’s 20-20, the score’s 20-20,” Fields said. “The two picks aren’t going to do anything for them now, so it’s like ‘F it’ at that point. I’m going to do whatever I can to help us win a game.
“Of course I want to play better, but my team still needs me so I can’t be sulking. ‘Oh, I threw two picks. Oh, I’m playing bad.’ This and that. There’s still more time on the clock for us to win the game.”
Fields is working on adapting his routine to try to make strides as an overall quarterback.
As gifted as he is athletically, he has a long way to go and is far from a finished product. The upside is there, but it’s a lot of growing pains right now.
“Again, I played terrible today,” Fields said. “I’m going to get better. We’re going to get better.”