The worst decision of Justin Fields’ 2022 season came at an inopportune time Sunday. The Chicago Bears were leading the Detroit Lions 24-17 in the fourth quarter at Soldier Field, needing to find ways across all three phases to close out a win against a bottom-tier opponent.
But on a second-and-18 tight end screen play with 10:38 remaining, Fields short-circuited.
When Lions rookie Aidan Hutchinson didn’t bite on a play fake and instead tracked Cole Kmet into the flat, Fields was flummoxed. In a moment of indiscretion, he pulled the ball down, encountered pressure from defensive tackle Isaiah Buggs and cornerback Will Harris, then threw a wild pitch into the November sky.
Fields airmailed Kmet and gave his old Ohio State teammate Jeff Okudah an early Christmas gift. Okudah snatched the interception and raced 20 yards for a game-tying touchdown.
After the game, Fields owned the blunder, calling it “a dumb mistake” and vowing it never would happen again for the rest of his career.
“I’ve just got to dirt it and play the next play,” he said.
Added Bears coach Matt Eberflus: “What you understand about that young man is that he’s a fighter. So he has the ability — and you’ve seen it during the course of this year — to reset. So we talked about that: ‘Hey, man, just reset.’”
The reset was instant and spectacular. On the third snap of the ensuing series, on a third-down zone-read keeper designed to go outside, Fields used his instincts to cut the run back inside Kmet’s block, then utilized his speed to leave the Lions defense in a cloud of smoke.
“He doesn’t do a lot of wiggling once he gets into that defensive backfield,” Eberflus said. “He puts on the gas and he understands angles.”
For the second consecutive week, Fields set a franchise record for longest run by a quarterback. This week’s electrifying sprint covered 67 yards for a go-ahead touchdown.
It was another highlight for the YouTube montage, more evidence of Fields’ playmaking brilliance.
Fields said once he cut the run inside of cornerback Mike Hughes, “I knew it was over with. At that point you’ve just got to hope your legs don’t give out on you.”
What a response. What a moment for Fields and the Bears in a game in which he again accounted for four touchdowns and again rushed for more than 100 yards.
When the 2022 season began, the consensus was nothing mattered more to the Bears future than Fields’ development. That remains true. And over the last four games, Fields has made an obvious climb, rushing for 467 yards and five touchdowns while adding eight touchdown passes.
The Bears have averaged 31 points in that span — after averaging just 15.5 points over their first six games. Those who don’t see an arrow pointing up for Fields and the offense are just stubbornly resisting the progress being made.
Much of Chicago is running on adrenaline now, eager for the next game to see what else Fields might include in his next show.
Still, the Bears lost 31-30 Sunday to a previously last-place team that hadn’t won a road game in more than 700 days. And the offense, outside of that 67-yard touchdown run, produced next to nothing on its four other fourth-quarter possessions. The Bears couldn’t put together a two-minute drive with the game on the line and squandered an opportunity.
At some point, that’s a box Fields and the offense will have to become capable of checking on a regular basis to help turn a wayward franchise into a consistent winner.
For now, Bears fans will gladly enjoy their euphoria of having a playmaking quarterback like they’ve never had. It’s a totally new experience.
Here’s your Week 10 QB rewind.
Fields’ first touchdown run Sunday came on a designed pass play, a concept in which receiver Darnell Mooney motioned in from the right, then ran a quick sprint back out after the snap. In an ideal world, Fields would have caught the shotgun snap and thrown a strike to Mooney’s outside shoulder for a score.
From a bird’s eye view in live action, Mooney seemed open enough by NFL standards to give that read a go. But upon further review, Lions safety DeShon Elliott did a nice job passing Mooney off to cornerback Jerry Jacobs, leaving Fields with a shorter window of time to deliver.
Uncomfortable with what he saw, Fields instead pulled the ball down and was seemingly dead to rights for a 6-yard sack by Buggs.
But Fields escaped that because of course he did. And once he got into open space, the result was a given: a 1-yard touchdown run that Fields finished by trucking Elliott at the goal line. Elliott, who is 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds, suffered a concussion on the play and was done for the afternoon.
Defenses are on notice now. They must respect Fields’ speed and fear his strength. He is difficult to bring down in the pocket, ultra-slippery on the move and can be an absolute battering ram when he’s picking up steam and initiating contact. The library of off-script big plays Fields is making continues to grow.
He had 147 rushing yards Sunday, starting with an all-too-easy 28-yard scamper on a zone-read play on the first snap.
He has rushed for 555 yards over his last five games, more than any quarterback in NFL history has had in a five-game stretch. And his 749 rushing yards for the season rank sixth in the league, just behind Houston Texans running back Dameon Pierce (772) and immediately ahead of the Green Bay Packers’ Aaron Jones (738) and the Minnesota Vikings’ Dalvin Cook (727).
This isn’t just a running quarterback. This is a barrel of TNT.
Squandering a 14-point lead at home to the lowly Lions requires extra examination across the board, especially considering Fields’ long touchdown run was about the only thing the Bears offense did right in the fourth quarter.
Despite taking a 24-10 lead into the quarter, the Bears lost in part because their offense couldn’t get anything going late. Here were the results of their five fourth-quarter possessions:
- Three plays, 5 yards, punt.
- Two plays, minus-8 yards, pick-six.
- Three plays, 75 yards, touchdown.
- Three plays, 5 yards, punt.
- Six plays, 2 yards, turnover on downs.
The final possession was particularly ugly with the offense needing only about 45 or 50 yards against the league’s worst defense to set up a potential game-winning field goal. Instead, the offense ended its promising day with a loss-sealing 8-yard sack.
It was a smorgasbord of miscues. Protection breakdowns. Receivers not getting open. The quarterback missing throws. One untimely collision down the field. Which is partly why Eberflus stressed the need to take a deeper look at the variety of reasons the offense’s fourth-quarter execution has been erratic this season.
“It could be protection, it could be route depths,” he said. “All those things that come into play in the passing game. But we’ll have to look at it with a critical eye.”
Fields was 2 of 6 for 13 yards in the fourth quarter against the Lions. He passed for only 27 fourth-quarter yards against the Miami Dolphins in the previous week’s home loss. His fourth-quarter passer rating this season is 60.0.
Improvement in that area is needed. The Bears also have to discover a formula for sharp execution late in games that can flip losses into victories.
“We had an opportunity there at the end to win it,” Kmet said. “Despite anything that happened up until then, you’ve got an opportunity to win it. And we just didn’t come through. That’s obviously frustrating.”
Kmet emphasized the need to find answers for those late-game situations and believes the Bears must experience victory to fuel growth.
“You’ve got to get that feeling and understand how to do it,” he said. “When we’re able to break through this thing and figure it out and be able to execute late in the game, it’s going to be really good for us going forward.”
On the longest catch of his three-year career, Kmet knew right after the snap he was headed for Soldier Field’s north end zone to take another touchdown-celebrating home run swing.
Offensive coordinator Luke Getsy timed the play call right, and Kmet believed the Lions defense was vulnerable to biting on a play-action bootleg concept that got Fields out of the pocket and rolling left.
Separating from Lions cornerback Mike Hughes, Kmet put one juke on safety Kerby Joseph, then broke toward the right sideline without a defender in sight.
“I knew right when I planted my foot, it was going to be wide open,” Kmet said.
After a play fake, Fields had exactly what he wanted and threw a high deep shot to Kmet, whose most imposing defender was the sky.
“The sun at that time was right in that (line of) vision,” Kmet said. “So I lost it for a couple seconds and was like, ‘Where’s this thing at?’ There’s slight shade coming in and you kind of see it peak through the sun.
“My baseball days playing center field probably helped out.”
That 50-yard touchdown followed a 6-yard TD grab on the previous possession. Both came on well-executed play action. The second was a prime example of how the Bears’ commitment to the running game and consistent production within it is creating favorable advantages in the passing game.
Fields and Kmet had only a handful of reps running that play during the week and couldn’t get it synced. A walk-through rehearsal of the play was disrupted by heavy wind gusts. So the duo agreed to stay after practice to work on the timing.
“I run one and the wind kind of takes it,” Kmet said. “I run two and I didn’t really run it right. I run three and wind takes it again. I run another one (that didn’t click) and it’s like, ‘All right, I can’t be doing all these routes.’ So we scratched it and we’re like, ‘We’ll get the one in the game.’ And it worked out that way.”
Fields and Kmet have hooked up for five touchdown passes in the last three games. As the Bears create an identity for Fields, establishing go-to playmakers in the passing game is important. Kmet has emerged as one of the offense’s biggest weapons.
- Chase Claypool’s second game as a Bear included only one catch, an 8-yarder on a pop pass in the second quarter. The only other time Claypool was targeted came on the final drive when Fields almost threw an interception to Okudah, seemingly attempting to go back shoulder to Claypool but with the duo not on the same page. Claypool played only 19 of 61 offensive snaps, and Fields was asked how long it might take to get the third-year receiver more involved. “It’s just going to take time,” he said. ”I don’t think anybody expected him to just come and start having 100-yard games. It just doesn’t work like that.”
- Fields’ two passes to Byron Pringle on a second-quarter possession were both noteworthy. The first came off play action with max protection and a clean pocket. Yet Fields missed badly on that throw, 14 yards down the field, one of his worst wild pitches of the day. Five snaps later, he connected with Pringle to convert on third-and-5 with a 12-yard completion. Fields spun out of the back of the pocket, avoided pressure and made a nifty flick from an unorthodox arm slot to find Pringle. That was a Mahomes-ian moment, the kind that aggravates a defense to no end.
- Third-round pick Velus Jones Jr. was inactive, as was fellow receiver N’Keal Harry, for whom the Bears traded a 2024 seventh-round pick in July. The Bears have six receivers on their 53-man roster whom general manager Ryan Poles acquired via free agency, the draft or a trade. Through 10 games, that group has combined for 36 catches, 474 yards and five touchdowns.