Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing. At least, most of the time it is. But in the case of the Chicago Bears’ 2021 season, it’s not quite that simple. Rookie quarterback Justin Fields’ development is another thing that matters this year, and he’s trending in the right direction despite another disappointing loss in Week 9 to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Fields had the best performance of his season in front of a national primetime audience. He completed 17-of-29 passes for 291 yards with one (clutch) touchdown pass and an interception. He added 45 yards with his legs. But it was what Fields did that doesn’t show up in the box score that mattered most for the Bears, even if it didn’t result in a victory. He was calm, collected, and clutch. He gave Chicago a chance to win the game. Better yet, he was the reason the Bears had a chance to win the game. It’s been a long time—like, forever—since Chicago’s had a quarterback with that kind of ability.
Monday night’s performance makes it back-to-back weeks that Fields has had his ‘best game of the season.’ His arrow is pointing up; he’s beginning to stack high-end performances and it’s happening at the rate expected from quarterbacks who ultimately mature into legitimate franchise guys. I wrote about Lamar Jackson’s ascent into superstardom last week and compared his rookie year to Fields’, and the similarities are remarkable. Fields’ 336 yards of offense against the Steelers advanced that narrative even further.
Fields had more than just statistical success against the Steelers. He showed more than just the mental makeup needed to handle big-time moments in the NFL. He had a statement game; he announced his arrival as a big-league playmaker to the rest of the NFL when he led the Bears to a go-ahead touchdown with less than two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. Fields’ 16-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Darnell Mooney was a thing of beauty. He made it look routine, almost like a practice rep. You’d never know a Monday Night Football game was on the line:
Here’s another angle of the throw. It shows how easy Fields made the play appear:
And while that was certainly the biggest throw of the night for Fields, it wasn’t his only clutch play. Earlier on that scoring drive, Fields connected with Allen Robinson on a beautiful 39-yard play:
Fields was so good on Monday night that he ended the game with the highest grade of any quarterback in Week 9, per Pro Football Focus. He earned a 90.5 overall mark. His 88.5 passing grade was also tops among all starting quarterbacks. And while the analytics are great and add context to Fields’ performance, it was the ‘it’ factor he brought to the Bears’ sideline that was truly special. He wanted the ball when it mattered most, and he delivered.
The point here is this: whether it’s the first drive of the first quarter or a potential game-winning throw, Fields is the same guy. His mental makeup and approach to playing quarterback are rare, even if his on-field stats are just now beginning to catch up. And it’s that kind of rare skill set that should have the Bears excited and optimistic about the direction of this team, even with an ugly 3-6 record.
With every step forward Fields takes, the closer Chicago gets to becoming a legitimate playoff contender in the NFC. In Week 9, Fields took a giant leap. And that’s great news for the Bears.