CHICAGO – Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers recognized what’s become apparent about Justin Fields, despite the Chicago Bears being officially eliminated from postseason contention with their sixth straight loss Sunday.
“They've got a talented quarterback who has a chance to be around for a long time,” Rodgers said.
The box score from Chicago’s 28-19 loss to Green Bay isn’t an accurate representation of how well the offense operated as Fields -- coming off a separated left shoulder -- saw his first action since Nov. 20. A 55-yard touchdown scamper -- Fields’ sixth straight game rushing for a score -- reiterated the quarterback's game-changing rushing ability. The types of throws he made while reaching his highest passing output of the season (20-of-25, 254 yards, 2 INTs) showed the strides Fields is making in becoming a well-rounded quarterback.
There’s no question this was Fields' most complete game.
“I think so,” Fields said. “I think this was one of my best games passing-wise. Of course, the stats aren’t going to show that, but I felt really comfortable out there in the passing game. I’m just going to keep improving and keep getting better.”
Green Bay had the NFL’s fourth-best pass defense (187.8 yards per game) and held Fields to 48 net passing yards in Week 2. Chicago’s game plan 11 games later relied on its quarterback’s ability to pick Green Bay apart with his arm in ways he had yet to display.
Fields said he knew Wednesday -- when he was a limited participant in practice -- that he was going to to play against Green Bay. He said he didn’t receive an injection in his non-throwing shoulder pregame, only that he wore a shirt that contained extra padding to protect the area.
What Fields did without his top wide receiver, Darnell Mooney, who is out for the season with an ankle injury, was an important step forward for someone hoping to become a franchise quarterback. Learning how to win from the pocket and make big-time, anticipatory throws is the next part of that process.
These moments were ones the Bears had hoped they would see from Fields this season. They resulted in 409 yards of offense, Chicago’s most in a game this season.
A 56-yard dime to Equanimeous St. Brown set up a second-quarter touchdown to give Chicago a 10-0 lead.
A third-and-10 throw where Fields navigated the pocket with ease to find Cole Kmet for a 24-yard gain on a drive that ended in a field goal in the third quarter.
A 50-50 ball on a play where Fields bought time with his legs to give N'Keal Harry, Chicago’s best contested-catch receiver, a chance to haul in a pass and put the Bears deep in Packers’ territory.
Fields was quick to praise his pass protection for his season-best day. According to ESPN Stats and Information, Fields was pressured on a career-low 22% of his dropbacks (6 of 27) and didn’t take a sack for the first time as a starter. That protection helped him reach his highest completion percentage in a game as a starter (80.0%) and a 90.6 QBR, his second highest of the season.
Fields and the offense once again had a chance to lead a game-winning drive, their fourth opportunity in their last five games. The result was another interception that crushed Chicago’s momentum, this one coming on a play where Fields said he was expecting St. Brown to run a dig route, which is when the receiver appears to be running straight downfield before digging in his foot and turning toward the middle of the field.
“Justin's been ripping that pass a couple times earlier,” coach Matt Eberflus said. “And that's a trust throw. When you have a trust throw, that means that he's reading it, and he's going to let it rip, and the guy's got to do a great job of stepping up and making those plays. I thought the corner made a nice play. He jumped it. But hopefully our receiver can jump out and knock that down if possible.”
Fields has proved he can carry the Bears in competitive games. When the talent around him improves, so will the results in the win-loss column. For now, the strides Fields is making as a passer are ones the Bears can build on coming out of their Week 14 bye with a stretch that features Philadelphia, Buffalo, Detroit and Minnesota.
“The wins are going to start coming,” Fields said. “I thought as an offense we got better today. I just can't wait until they start coming. They're going to start rolling in here soon, so just got to keep working and keep getting better."