LAKE FOREST – In the words of quarterback coach Andrew Janocko, Bears quarterback Justin Fields was “peeved” when he learned he wouldn’t play this week.
Fields wants to play every game, even Week 18 when the season is already lost for the 3-13 football club. Fields injured his hip last week against the Detroit Lions, an injury that needed some medical attention on the team’s bench, but it wasn’t bad enough to keep him out of a 41-10 loss to the Lions.
A week later, that same hip injury has sidelined him for the season finale against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday at Soldier Field. Backup quarterback Nathan Peterman will start in his place.
“The dude wants to play,” Janocko said. “He’s a competitor.”
First-year head coach Matt Eberflus said this week that the injury, not the Bears’ future draft position, is what is keeping Fields on the sideline. But the reality is, this game means nothing for the Bears and there’s not a lot to gain by putting the franchise quarterback in harm’s way.
Fields’ sophomore season is over. The Bears aren’t ready for reflection yet. The coaching staff is focused on this week’s game against the Vikings. Even if fans might be talking about next year, nobody in Halas Hall is discussing it yet.
Janocko said he couldn’t possibly know what additional weapons Fields needs for the 2023 season without doing a thorough evaluation of the film and looking at the season as a whole. There will be plenty of time for that after Sunday’s game.
Still, the Bears learned a heck of a lot about their quarterback this season. In order for general manager Ryan Poles to figure out what exactly his team needs moving forward, he needed to know what his quarterback was capable of. The No. 1 most important thing this season was for Fields to play and to remain healthy.
From that perspective, the season was a success.
Fields did amazing things with his legs. He will end his season 63 yards shy of Lamar Jackson’s 2019 quarterback single-season rushing record. He will finish the year with 1,143 rushing yards and eight touchdowns on 160 carries. As a passer, he has thrown for 2,242 yards with 17 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in 15 games. He surrendered a league-leading 55 sacks this season.
Before Fields started running like crazy, the first several games were rough. During the middle portion of the season, he appeared to unlock something in his running abilities and he kept the Bears in close games. The last several games, however, the team was banged up and the results weren’t good.
“We like the way he progressed in the pass game, we like the way he progressed in the pocket,” Janocko said. “Knowing progressions and reads. We like the way he was able to help himself with protections.”
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For Luke Getsy, a first-year offensive coordinator working with a 23-year-old QB, this season was all about testing Fields.
“Every day, we’re going to come in, we’re going to challenge them,” Getsy said. “We’re going to demand things from them. As long as we see growth, we know that we’re on the right path. When you reflect on those questions that you guys gave me, that’s what I saw every day [from Fields].”
Getsy referenced Fields’ comfortability with speaking to the media. He also noted how Fields was one of the people to calm down receiver Chase Claypool when Claypool’s frustrations overwhelmed him during last week’s loss.
“That’s him becoming the leader of the football team and being a great pro and consistent every day,” Getsy said. “I think that’s the most important thing.”
This was unequivocally Fields’ team. Quarterbacks, even talented ones, don’t always have the demeanor of a leader or the respect of the locker room. Nobody is doubting Fields in that area.
“He wants this to be his franchise,” Janocko said. “He wants this to be his city. Just the way he works. Spend five minutes with the kid and you know he’s a dude. Like, he’s a dog. He’s an alpha. Spend a little bit of time with him and you know: This guy, he wants to be it.”
Fields is a phenomenal self-evaluator. Janocko said the QB comes to work every Monday morning with a list of things to improve on from Sunday’s game. Nobody asked him to do that.
Claypool, who the Bears traded for in November, said he and Fields are already making loose plans to link up this offseason. Once the season ends, NFL players head back to their offseason homes until April. Last year, Fields met up with receiver Darnell Mooney and tight end Cole Kmet in Atlanta throughout the early months of the offseason in order to get extra work in.
Already, there has been some discussion about meeting up and extending an offer to any new receivers the Bears add in free agency in March.
“He’s one of those guys that hates losing just as much as I do,” Claypool said. “We see common ground on that, so it’s good to know that there’s a guy throwing you the ball who wants to win just as bad as you do.”