CLEVELAND – The Chicago Bears haven’t had a franchise quarterback since Sid Luckman called it a day in 1948.
Over the next 34 years some serious names, including Johnny Lujack, George Blanda, Ed Brown and Bill Wade got their shots at it. The Bears did win a championship in 1963 with Wade at QB, but he was far from the reason for their success.
In 1982 the franchise got serious using the fifth overall pick in the draft on Jim McMahon. They did, as we all know, quite well, winning one more title with him in 1985. But McMahon lasted only seven seasons in Chicago, starting more than nine games twice and never more than 14. He turned out to be a journeyman backup, playing 15 seasons but reaching double-digit starts only five times.
Between 1987 and 2020 the team would spend seven more first-round draft choices on QBs. The Bears drafted Jim Harbaugh, Cade McNown and Rex Grossman. The Bears gave up a first rounder for Rick Mirer, dealt two first rounders for Jay Cutler and then gave up another first to move up and take Mitch Trubisky.
It is worth noting that while Mirer and McNown were complete embarrassments, only Harbaugh flourished in Chicago or elsewhere, cobbling together a successful career in Indianapolis. The jury still out on only Trubisky.
Cutler wasn’t bad, he just wasn’t good.
I am truly sorry for that incredibly painful trip down memory lane, but it is interesting because every Bears fan eyed the beginnings of all those efforts – with the possible exceptions of Mirer and McNown – with the same enthusiasm, and certainty the team finally got it right as they’ve embraced Justin Fields.
And to listen to the masses, all of their early struggles always were the fault of a coach or playcaller from Greg Landry to John Shoop to Ron Turner to Mike Martz to Adam Gase to Dowell Loggains and now Matt Nagy.
It is with that as the backdrop that Fields took the field Sunday in Cleveland and authored arguably the worst debut of any of his predecessors in a 26-6 manhandling from the Browns.
The poor kid, clearly nowhere near ready for the stage he was on, got nothing right.
Predictably social media and its wealth of play-calling experts immediately exploded, placing all the blame on Nagy, who was damned when he didn’t and is now damned that he did.
Nagy didn’t want to start Fields because he wasn’t ready, which we now know he clearly wasn’t, and now we’re supposed to believe Fields only failed because of Nagy’s scheme and play calling?
Nagy actually agreed, telling us after the game the failures of his offense start and end with him and he takes full responsibility.
But the quarterback-needy Jaguars (Trevor Lawrence), Jets (Zach Wilson), Panthers (Sam Darnold), Colts (Carson Wentz) and Eagles (Jalen Hurts) all passed on Fields for other kids they preferred.
I think all but the Jaguars were wrong. I prefer Fields and still love his chances of finally changing the Bears’ QB fortunes.
But the questions that surround him are all about his ability to read the field, process quickly and make sound decisions.
When you are 6 of 20 for 68 yards and take nine sacks while managing only 12 yards on three scrambles, you clearly aren’t reading anything right or near quickly enough.
Nagy is not blameless, nor is the equally unacceptable play of the offensive line, or a group of wide receivers that failed to separate or get open more than a handful of times all afternoon.
It is quite possible that if Nagy refuses to give up his fascination with play calling and focus on being the best head coach and QB developer he can be, he will be fired and it will be deserved.
And you’re a fool if you don’t love Fields’ physical traits and all that we’ve learned about him as a young man and leader.
But all we saw for sure Sunday is how incredibly difficult it is for a rookie – any rookie – to step under center in his third NFL game and be expected to lead a productive offense.
The kid isn’t ready and no one should have ever expected him to be. It was just a bit jolting discovering how unprepared he was, and that’s on him and his boss.