When Bears quarterback Justin Fields was asked for the highlight of the season Monday at Halas Hall, he easily could have selected one of his many highlight-reel runs.
Fields ripped off a 61-yarder against Miami in Week 9, a 67-yarder against the Lions in Week 10, a 55-yarder against the Packers in Week 13 and a 60-yarder against the Lions in Week 17.
The first three went for touchdowns, and they all had fans exploding from their seats, couches or bar stools across the Chicago area.
But Fields – whose leadership skills were on display time and time again during a trying 3-14 campaign – went in a totally different direction.
“I’d have to say first game of the season,” Fields said of the Bears’ 19-10 win over the San Francisco 49ers at rainy Soldier Field. “New regime, new GM, new head coach, new team. I think that was a pretty memorable moment for everybody. ...
“It felt like we were in a movie.”
It was an impressive – if not totally unexpected – response.
During his two seasons in Chicago, Fields has shown he’s not all about individual stats. Now, was he disappointed the Bears didn’t allow him to play Sunday against the Vikings, thus denying him a chance to break Lamar Jackson’s single-season rushing record for QBs?
“Yeah, but it’s a rushing record, and I’m a quarterback,” said Fields, who finished with 1,143 yards on the ground, 63 shy of Jackson. “Of course it would’ve been cool to have, but I’m not really into records like that. If there was one record I’d like to break, of course, it’d be a passing record.
“So we’ll see if we can get that done in the near future.”
While he posted those off-the-chart, eye-popping rushing numbers, Fields’ final passing stats left a lot to be desired. To wit:
• His 60.4% completion percentage ranked 31st out of 33 qualifying QBs.
• His 149.5 yards per game ranked 33rd, ahead of only Dallas’ Cooper Rush, who played nine games. Twenty-five QBs averaged 200 or more yards.
• His 3.5% interception percentage was second-worst in the league.
Blame some of those ghastly numbers on Fields’ weak receiving corps, but he could have been more accurate and patient at times.
Despite the lack of success through the air, the Bears still managed to score 24 or more points for five straight weeks in the middle of the season.
“We know what we can do as an offense and what we can accomplish,” Fields said. “The fact that [this] was everybody’s first year ... and we were doing that ... that just gives us a lot of hope, a lot of optimism for the future for sure.”
Now, imagine giving Fields two more reliable weapons and/or a superstar to throw to. The optimism would reach dizzying heights.
Although Fields needs plenty of fine-tuning before he becomes a reliable, consistent passing threat, there’s no questioning his leadership skills. Teammates raved about them all season, and Monday was no different as guys packed up lockers and headed for their offseason destinations.
“I definitely felt his presence,” rookie offensive lineman Braxton Jones said. “I had some times where I had some rough moments, and he was never on me about those. ... But things like false starts or tick[y] tack things that can hurt us – he was on me about those, and I like that.
“It makes me feel more accountable. When you’ve got guys like that in the locker room, you want to come to work a different way [and with] a different mindset.”
Rookie wide receiver Velus Jones Jr., who really struggled to find his way, felt a brother-like bond with Fields.
“We got on Call of Duty sometimes, and he was like, ‘Bro, you feel me? Not your fault. We’ve all got to work on stuff. Nobody played that game perfect,’” Jones said. “He always had my back. ... Just [wanted] me to get better and continue to grow.
“He’s like a brother to me, and I really appreciated that.”
Over the coming months, we’ll see what kind of team Fields will lead into 2023.
It could feature a defensive lineman who wreaks havoc in the opponent’s backfield, a menacing addition to the offensive line and/or dangerous wideouts who can unlock Fields’ potential.
With the honeymoon phase over, general manager Ryan Poles needs to make all of that happen.
Because nobody in that locker room wants to replay the movie of 2022 – one that began with Fields and Co. belly-flopping in a rain-soaked end zone and included some impressive midseason action scenes but nonetheless ended with an unceremonious thud.
“I know Ryan has a great understanding of what needs to be done around here,” Fields said. “That’s not my job to control any of that. Whatever he needs me to do in terms of recruiting and stuff like that – I’m sure we’re gonna have that conversation here in a bit.
“I fully trust him. His goal is to make the best team he can for us. I know he’s gonna do a great job of that.”