Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields was nearly a one-man show on offense in Sunday’s 33-22 loss to the San Francisco 49ers, and while Fields’ performance was a fantastic display of his incredible upside as an NFL starting quarterback, the fact that he had the most rushing yards (103) for a Bears quarterback since 1973 was due, in part, to another invisible showing from top wide receiver Allen Robinson.
Robinson ended the game with just three catches for 21 yards. His four targets trailed Darnell Mooney’s nine and tight end Cole Kmet’s six. Backup tight end Jesse James nearly had the same number of looks as Robinson on Sunday (and he turned one of them into a catch we’re used to seeing from No. 12).
Now eight games into the 2021 season, Robinson’s outing on Sunday has become more than an anomaly. It’s more than a trend. It’s just who he is as a wide receiver this year, which is terrible timing for a wideout on the franchise tag who will look to be paid among the top players at his position next offseason.
If Robinson is going to get a payday like that, it surely won’t be in Chicago. He’s fallen down the pecking order of Fields’ progressions at a steady rate, and in Sunday’s game at Soldier Field, he looked like every bit the third or even fourth option for the rookie signal-caller. It’s clear that Mooney is Fields’ favorite guy, maybe because of the chemistry they’ve built by putting so many extra reps in together, and that Robinson’s ability to win contested catches or win on intermediate routes just doesn’t match what Fields wants to do as a quarterback. At least, not yet.
It’s that ‘not yet’ part that will soon run out, and unlike players with multiple years remaining on their contract, Robinson’s time as a Bear likely has just nine games left. The coaches are aware of the last few grains of sand remaining in the Robinson tenure, too, and it sort of makes sense to build an offense around Fields that doesn’t rely on No. 12 all that much. This way, when he inevitably leaves in free agency next offseason, it won’t be as big of a deal as it would be if Robinson was tracking for his usual 1,200 yards and eight touchdowns.
It’s true that Robinson’s hard-to-believe regression is partly because of Chicago’s lack of production in the passing game (Fields threw for just 175 yards against the 49ers), but players with his pedigree and who are making nearly $18M per season are expected to end games with more than just 21 yards. Remember: He had just 16 yards against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 7 and hasn’t had a game with more than 53 yards since Week 4 against the Detroit Lions.
Robinson’s made some magical plays during his four seasons in Chicago, but it’s his disappearing act in 2021 that’s the most impressive… for all the wrong reasons.