1st-and-10: Justin Fields’ progress always a win for Bears

The Bears hit the “Sweet Spot of Bad” for the first time in 2022 in their 29-22 loss to the Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium — that’s where Justin Fields makes progress, plays well and the Bears still lose.

After Fields was sacked six times and completed 11-of-22 passes for 174 yards with no touchdowns in a loss to the Giants last week, the Bears were starting to trend toward the less-desirable rebuilding-year scenario — bad enough for a top-five pick in the 2023 draft, but possibly needing to use it on a quarterback.

The Sweet Spot of Bad puts them in the better scenario — with a developing Fields in place and a top-five (or top-10) pick to get an elite-quality weapon in the draft for their up-and-coming quarterback — like the Bengals (Ja’Marr Chase at No. 5), Dolphins (Jaylen Waddle at No. 6) and Eagles (DeVonta Smith at No. 10) did in the 2021 draft.

There’s still a long way to go and nothing is defined for the Bears this season — good or bad. And this wasn’t exactly a breakout game for Fields. Completing 15-of-21 passes for 208 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions for a 118.8 passer rating, plus 47 rushing yards on eight carries clears a bar that most established quarterbacks can step over.

But the loss to the Vikings was a good example of what this season is all about — developing Fields despite a modest supporting cast so the Bears can use their massive cap space and better draft capital to load up and give Fields a chance to take off in 2023.

By that standard, Sunday’s loss was definitely a step forward for Fields and the Bears. And the confidence it gave Fields was palpable even in his post-game press conference. You could tell he felt pretty good about his performance even in a loss.

Evaluating mood and body language can be risky — it can change in a matter of days. But there’s even more anticipation than usual to see if Fields can parlay a performance that clearly lifted his spirits into something bigger against a Washington defense that has allowed a 113.7 passer rating (10 touchdowns, no interceptions) the past four weeks — to Ryan Tannehill (95.6), Cooper Rush (107.5), Jalen Hurts (123.5) and Jared Goff (121.7).

2. The Fields Effect: Bears running back David Montgomery was among those who saw the game as a step forward despite the loss. “You still see bad things happen … but there are a lot of good things that happen as well, that we can grow on.”

Asked for the best of those good things, Montgomery responded quickly.

“Justin, really,” he said. “The way he’s playing and bringing this aura to have everyone behind him to the way he plays. “His poise, how calm he is. If your quarterback can be calm in hostile situations, I have no choice but to be calm, because he’s the one calling the shots.”

3. For What It’s Worth Dept. –Fields’ 118.7 passer rating is the highest allowed by the Vikings’ defense this season — ahead of Hurts (108.7), Andy Dalton (108.6), Goff (79.0) and the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers (67.6).

Fields’ 208 passing yards ranked 24th among starting quarterbacks in Week 5. But if you include a 20-yard gain on a pass interference call (a point-of-foul infraction that should be included in passing/receiving stats), he threw for 228 yards, so …

Fields’ 7.7 yards per attempt ranks seventh in the NFL, ahead of such luminaries as Patrick Mahomes (7.4), Russell Wilson (7.4), Lamar Jackson (7.2), Matthew Stafford (6.9), Aaron Rodgers (6.9) and Tom Brady (6.8).

4. Fairness Dept.: Fields’ 17.6 attempts per game is 37th among quarterbacks who have started two or more games. He’s 31st in passer rating (73.1) and 25th in QBR (which takes rushing into account, 37.1).

5. Speaking of pass interference calls, the Bears could have an opportunity to air it out against a Washington defense that leads the NFL with six defensive pass interference penalties for a league-high 138 yards.

Cornerbacks Williams Jackson (38, 27 yards), Rachad Wildgoose (23, 17) and Kendall Fuller (21) have five of them. Safety Bobby McCain (21) has the other.

6. The Bears’ comeback from a 21-3 deficit against the Vikings was the third time (out of 23 times) they have recovered from a deficit of 17 or more points in the first half to take the lead since the Miracle in the Desert against the Cardinals in 2006.

They did that in 2019 against the Raiders in London, when they fell behind 17-0 in the first half but rallied behind Chase Daniel to take a 21-17 lead — only to lose 24-21, and lose their next three games to fall to 3-5.

The last time the Bears fell behind by 17 points or more in the first half and won was in 2014 against the 49ers in the first regular-season game at Levi’s Stadium. The Bears fell behind 17-0 in the second quarter before Jay Cutler threw three touchdown passes to Brandon Marshall and one to Martellus Bennett to win 28-20.

7. The offensive line might end up being the Bears’ biggest issue as the season ensues, because five games into the season, the Bears are still searching for a lineup they can grow with. And with this group — that includes a fifth-round rookie at left tackle in Braxton Jones and a fifth-round second-year player in right tackle Larry Borom — continuity will be key.

But continuity has been elusive. When Lucas Patrick replaced injured starter Cody Whitehair at left guard against the Vikings, it was the Bears’ third different starting lineup in five games –and the 52nd lineup change in nine seasons since all five starters last played all 16 games in 2013.

The Bears’ longest stretch of games with the same starting five offensive linemen is seven games in 2018 — Charles Leno, James Daniels, Whitehair, Bryan Witzmann (for Kyle Long) and Bobby Massie.

8. Darnell Mooney’s spectacular, one-handed, 39-yard catch against the Vikings was one of the best in Bears history. Among the others on that list:

Marty Booker’s one-handed, 30-yard catch of a Kyle Orton pass while being interfered with by cornerback Travis Fisher in a 34-7 victory over the Lions at Ford Field in 2008.Harlon Hill’s game-tying, diving, juggling, 56-yard touchdown reception from Ed Brown against the Giants at Yankee Stadium in 1956.Damiere Byrd’s leaping catch for a game-winning two-point conversion against the Seahawks last year when he was surrounded by three defenders and hung onto the ball with one hand as he completed the process of the catch and stayed in bounds.

9. Josh McCown Ex-Bears Player of the Week: Dolphins running back Raheem Mostert had 18 carries for 113 yards and a touchdown in a 40-17 loss to the Jets — it was a two-point game in the fourth quarter until the Jets scored three touchdowns to make it a blowout.

Mostert played in two games with the Bears in 2016 — both on special teams. He has 394 carries for 2,206 yards (5.6 avg.) and 17 touchdowns since the Bears released him from the practice squad in Week 12 of 2016 — including 29 carries for 220 yards and four touchdowns in a 49ers playoff victory over the Packers in 2020.

10. Bear-ometer: 6-11 –vs. Commanders (W); at Patriots (L); at Cowboys (L); vs. Dolphins (L); vs. Lions (W); at Falcons (W); at NY Jets (L); vs. Packers (L); vs. Eagles (L); vs. Bills (L); at Lions (L); vs. Vikings (W).

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