There is a price to pay for starting Fields so early in his career

  • Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields walks off the field after his team's 24-14 loss to the Green Bay Packers in an NFL football game Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021, in Chicago.

    Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields walks off the field after his team's 24-14 loss to the Green Bay Packers in an NFL football game Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021, in Chicago.

Updated 10/18/2021 7:18 PM

Monday morning following the Bears' 24-14 loss to the Green Bay Packers, Bears fans awoke to a reality the majority of which had been doing everything in their power to avoid.

Most Bears fans have done their best to ignore the fact there is a price to pay for starting quarterback Justin Fields so early in his career.


I am not suggesting the Bears would have beaten the Packers on Sunday with Andy Dalton or Nick Foles under center.

There is absolutely no way to predict that, and precious little evidence to suggest it's true.

But there also is no denying by anyone who watched the first period it was a winnable game, and that the biggest chunks of what was missing vs. the Packers were the things Fields still hasn't learned or has yet to figure out how to execute.

In 22 minutes with the media Monday morning, 16 of the first 18 questions for head coach Matt Nagy were about either things Fields struggled with, where he's progressing, where he isn't, and what he is or isn't seeing and doing.

Nagy took us through his film study Monday morning and pointed out 17 plays -- the fifth, sixth, seventh, 37th, 38th, 39th and 44th through 54th plays that he really liked.

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All but two of them came on the Bears' two scoring drives.

Of the final touchdown drive, Nagy said, "Those 11 plays right there, that was one of the better drives of the season. And for sure, I think, Justin's best."

That is great to hear and it was great to watch.

The problem is while the defense was unacceptable against the run, overall it was good enough to win if the offense had done its job.

The Bears ran 40 other plays on offense, and while they certainly weren't all bad or all Fields' fault, they produced zero points, often because of what Fields still isn't seeing or reacting to in real time.

Nagy voiced his satisfaction, but also his concern.

"All of that, when you go back and look at those plays, that's what gets you excited is being able to see that," Nagy said. "Now, we need to do more of that. And how do we get to that?"


This isn't about whether or not it was the right decision to make Fields the starter so soon.

We'll never know now what would have happened if they hadn't, and that ship has sailed. Going back to Dalton now out of anything but necessity would make a much bigger mess.

But it was uncomfortable seeing Fields in his postgame news conference Sunday a bit defiant and a tad defensive for the first time.

I don't think any damage has been done that can't be repaired. Part of what has impressed me so much about him is how tough, mature and strong-willed he seems to be.

I believe he'll bounce back.

But there is no disputing what Fields isn't seeing.

Sixty of his 99 pass attempts have been targeted at Allen Robinson and Darnell Mooney, 78 (79%) if you add Cole Kmet because that's obviously where his focus is.

By comparison only 151 of Patrick Mahomes 230 targets (66%) have gone to his first three choices (if you had Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce what would you do?), Tom Brady's percentage to his top three is 51.3% and for a real comp, fellow rookie Mac Jones is 52.1%.

I still strongly prefer Fields to Jones for what I believe they will each eventually be.

But when I asked tight ends coach Clancy Barone on Monday why Jimmy Graham has disappeared in the passing game, he told me, "There's a lot of guys not getting the football right now, he's just one of them."

"It's part of the process and Jimmy knows that," Barone said.

Barone was absolutely not going after Fields, and I'm not either.

The reality, though, is right now Fields is still thinking rather than reacting much of the time, holding the ball too long, not seeing the whole field, not always making the right reads and not "playing fast."

This is the "process" for every young quarterback, it's the one the Bears chose, it isn't complicated and you better get used to it.

It should be worth it, but we have no idea how long this is going to take or how many more winnable games might get away.


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