Same old story, but a different evaluation of Justin Fields

Chicago
By Chicago 7 Min Read

Of all the offseason narratives that fueled optimism about the Bears’ rebuild after a 3-14 season in 2022, none appeared more real than DJ Moore providing Justin Fields with a dependable, versatile wide receiver who would give the young quarterback the best opportunity for growth as a passer. 

From the moment Moore stepped on the practice field with Fields in OTAs, the chemistry was palpable. The connection was obvious. Moore was like a new toy that didn’t require instructions.

It didn’t work out that way in the Bears’ 38-20 loss to the Packers in the season opener Sunday at Soldier Field. After all that anticipation, Moore didn’t see a pass his way until the Bears’ 18th offensive play — an 11-yard completion with 11:55 left in the second quarter. 

Fields went back to Moore for 14 yards on the next play. But just when it looked like the Fields-Moore connection was being unleashed, it evaporated. That was the last time Fields looked for Moore, except for a failed two-point conversion when the Bears’ fate was sealed with 2:54 left. 

Moore had just those two catches for 25 yards — perhaps the biggest letdown on a day of letdowns. One day Fields might be a quarterback who can rise above the muck and will the Bears to victory. But right now, he’s only as good as the players around him. 

Against Green Bay, that supporting cast wasn’t very good. The rebuilt offensive line was no better against the Packers than in 2022. And Luke Getsy’s offense couldn’t make the Packers pay for focusing on Moore. Darnell Mooney had four receptions for 53 yards and a touchdown. But Chase Claypool (no catches) and rookie Tyler Scott (2-14) made minimal or no impact. 

Fields’ numbers were disappointing: He completed 24 of 37 passes for 216 yards (5.8 yards per attempt) and one touchdown and threw an interception (a pick-six) for a 78.2 passer rating. Fields was sacked four times. And he lost a fumble on a scramble.

And when coach Matt Eberflus reviewed the film, his lament was all too familiar to Bears fans.

“He knows he can play better,” Eberflus said. “He’s well aware of that, and he’s going to work diligently to do that.

“It’s important that everyone looks that way — the offensive line, the receivers, the coaches, the defensive coaches, the defensive line, everybody. It’s all hands on deck to improve because we want to improve as we go. We have room for improvement, as you can see. So we’re excited about getting that done. It’s a challenge for our guys to work on that.” 

It was only Week 1, and it was only one game. But already it’s clear that Year 2 is a different evaluation of Fields, Getsy, Eberflus and general manager Ryan Poles. Last year, every disappointing Fields passing performance and every loss only got the Bears closer to 2023. Now, every disappointment — especially when it involves Fields — chips away at the belief that Getsy and his staff can mold Fields into the dynamic, elite quarterback they expect him to be. 

Maybe that’s unfair at this stage of Fields’ development. But Bears fans don’t have a success story to lean on for hope, only a litany of quarterbacks who never lived up to the hype — Cade McNown, Rex Grossman, Jay Cutler and Mitch Trubisky. They all knew they had to play better, too. But they didn’t.

And, unfairly or not, in 2023, Fields’ mistakes seem more and more like a red flag than part of the process, and the explanations a little more hollow than hopeful — like when he was sacked by Packers rookie linebacker Lukas Van Ness for a seven-yard loss on second-and-goal from the 4-yard line. He should have thrown it away.

“I talked to Justin right after that; he knew that,” Eberflus said. “He said, ‘Get rid of it.’ He doesn’t need to take that one.” 

It remains to be seen if Fields will learn from those mistakes without making other ones. But this first impression was unnerving. With an upgraded supporting cast, Fields was the same quarterback. Meanwhile, Jordan Love’s wide receiver corps included three rookies and two second-year players — plus rookie tight end Luke Musgrave — and the Packers still put Love in a position to succeed. He completed 15 of 27 passes for 245 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions and had a 123.2 passer rating in his second NFL start. It was only Week 1 for him, too. 

So what are the Packers doing that the Bears aren’t? The Packers’ offensive line, anchored by two-time All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari and Pro Bowl left guard Elgton Jenkins, did its job. The Bears’ offensive line, playing as a unit for the first time, did not. But Eberflus was not about to go into a detailed analysis.

“I would just say this,” Eberflus said with a steely stare. “It’s a long season, and we’re gonna get better, and we’re gonna focus on ourselves, and we’re gonna improve. That’s what I would say about that.”

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