Life is usually hard for rookie quarterbacks in the NFL. But it’s even more challenging when a rookie is forced to go head-to-head with an established veteran. And in the case of Justin Fields, the last two games have been nothing short of a nightmare for the 2021 first-round pick, who’s squared off against two Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks.
In Week 6, Fields was outdueled by Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, and in Sunday’s loss to the defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Fields looked very much like an inexperienced and turnover-prone rookie compared to Tom Brady, who by any standard is the greatest quarterback in NFL history.
The box score does a pretty good job of telling the complete story. Fields completed 22-of-32 passes for 184 yards with zero touchdowns and three interceptions. He lost two fumbles, too, bringing his turnover total to five on the afternoon. He added 38 rushing yards which were mostly gained in meaningless fourth-quarter garbage time.
Fields didn’t stand a chance against the Buccaneers’ defense that swarmed him from the opening snap until the final whistle. Starting right tackle Elijah Wilkinson was placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list shortly before the game, which forced deep reserve Lachavious Simmons into the starting lineup. It was ugly. He was on the wrong end of two strip-sacks and was eventually replaced by Alex Bars.
Still, Sunday’s loss was another game in which Fields was unable to answer the challenges presented to him. The throws he was able to get off were generally off-target, and it feels like he’s beginning to rush or force plays because of the trauma he’s suffered early in his pro career. It’s the kind of trauma that’s doomed many promising quarterbacks before him. The Bears have to be very careful that Fields doesn’t get broken before he has a chance to really kick off his career.
“No matter how many picks I throw, no matter how many (losses) we take, I’m going to keep going,” Fields said after the loss. “That’s just who I am. I’m never going to stop, and I’m just going to keep going.”
Aside from rookie running back Khalil Herbert, who recorded his first 100-yard rushing game, there was nothing Chicago could do on offense. In a way, it was the Bears’ worst-case scenario playing out in real-time.
The ‘Fields Bears’ are supposed to be different; they’re supposed to be an exciting group that’s capable of putting up points in bunches. But here we are, after two games against legitimate opponents, and Fields has led Chicago to just 17 points—total—in eight quarters.
“I’ve never been in this position, where I’m losing,” Fields said. “I don’t know how to feel. My only reaction to this is to keep working. I’m not angry at all.”
Anyone who’s watched the last two Bears games knows the losses, and the offense’s struggles during those losses, aren’t entirely Fields’ fault. In fact, he’s responsible for just a small percentage of what’s actually going wrong. The breakdowns along the offensive line and the sense of disorganization within the coaching staff continue to curse an offense that’s now on its second first-round quarterback in the Matt Nagy era. At some point, blame has to shift from the guy behind center to the head coach roaming the sideline.
For now, the Bears are 3-4 and struggling to get Fields on track. The longer the offense sputters in the 2021 season, the tougher it will be for Fields to avoid the unsettling narrative that tends to swirl around Bears’ quarterbacks.
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