LAKE FOREST – With his left arm hurting and his emotions drained from another one-possession loss, Bears quarterback Justin Fields stepped up in front of his teammates in the locker room Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
“I apologized to those guys, especially for that game-ending pick,” Fields recalled this week at Halas Hall. “I felt like [the defense] did their job, in terms of holding them to a field goal.”
The Bears defense kept the Falcons out of the end zone, but allowed a field goal with 1:52 remaining in the game. Fields and the offense had one more chance. In a matter of three plays, Fields injured his left shoulder and threw an interception that essentially ended the game. The potential game-winning drive ended before it ever got off the ground.
For that, Fields wanted to apologize. His teammate, though, weren’t having it.
Safety Eddie Jackson stopped Fields before he got too far into his apology.
“The game is not won or lost with one play,” Jackson said. “We all have to be better.”
Fields’ teammates agreed. In a moment of unity amid a difficult 3-8 season, the players rallied around their quarterback and their captain. In five of the last seven games, the Bears had a late fourth-quarter drive with a chance to tie the game or take the lead. They lost all five of those games. That has clearly frustrated the starting quarterback.
But Fields’ team wouldn’t be in these games if it weren’t for his improved play in recent weeks. He has been on a tear, running for more than 106 yards per game over the last six contests. Fields is less than 400 yards shy of Lamar Jackson’s 2019 quarterback rushing record of 1,206 yards.
Fields has largely put this team on his back. But win or lose, it can’t be done alone.
“Everybody stopped [him],” receiver Darnell Mooney said. “It’s not you. It’s not just the offense. It’s everybody included. You can’t do everything by yourself out there. We have to help you all around, so it’s not all on him.”
Some players in the locker room said for Fields to step up and apologize like that in front of everyone shows what kind of leader the 23-year-old quarterback is becoming. Ever since last season ended and the Bears overhauled the football operation with a new front office and a new coaching staff, Fields has taken ownership of this offense. Even before the Bears knew what exactly this offense would look like, Fields took it upon himself to set up offseason workouts with Mooney and tight end Cole Kmet.
There’s no mistaking who the leader in that locker room is right now.
“For him to do that, that’s bold, No. 1,” linebacker Nicholas Morrow said. “You like that, that’s a good leadership quality. To take that type of responsibility, accountability. At the same time, it’s 11 men on the field at a time, so we’ve all got to take responsibility.”
The Bears have six games remaining on the schedule. Fields, whose status this week is up in the air due to a left shoulder injury, is tired of losing. He’s tired of being told how close his team is.
The wins and losses might not mean much anymore. The Bears’ playoff chances this season are close to zero. But the vibes in the locker room and the vibes around the quarterback are heading in the right direction.
“We go as far as he goes,” Mooney said. “He understands that and I think that’s another reason why he stepped up to speak.”