QB Justin Fields’ progress matters more to Bears than how they fare vs. PackersJason Lieseron December 13, 2021 at 4:06 am

Fields had 150 yards passing and 44 yards rushing in the first half. | AP Photos

In his return from three cracked ribs, Fields continued showing signs that he’s on the rise. And with this season already lost, that’s the most important thing for the Bears.

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Justin Fields is getting better, and that’s the only thing that matters about this Bears season.

He’s the only one in the organization who can say he took a step forward Sunday in the Bears’ game against the Packers at Lambeau Field regardless of the outcome. He would say he’s too competitive to accept a figurative victory, but he’s too new to the Bears to view this through a wide-angled lens.

The true purpose of Sunday and the remaining four games is to build toward a Fields-led future. Anything that brightens that outlook is a positive, and Fields delivered some good indicators in his return from cracked ribs.

The Bears stumbled haphazardly into giving Fields a season of learning on the job, diverted to that course only after Andy Dalton hurt his knee in Week 2, and it was the best thing for them. It might not have been the best thing for coach Matt Nagy and his job security, but that’s where the measurements of success for Fields and the rest of the organization split.

Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace need to win now. They’re overdue and long past their grace period.

Andy Dalton, Jimmy Graham, Akiem Hicks and various other Bears veterans face that same level of urgency as they try to prolong their careers.

But Fields has time. It’s not imperative that he arrives this season, only that he continues heading the right direction. The real evaluation comes next season.

And so far, everything looks right. Fields is far from a finished product, but he has consistently shown elusive running ability, precise deep passes and decisiveness. All of those abilities have improved steadily as he has expanded his understanding of NFL defenses.

To his credit, he has done all that in spite of the Bears’ disarray and his rib injury. Nagy put Fields on a slower track than necessary because he had already locked into the idea of Dalton being the starter all season and Fields learning through observation.

But there are some things he must learn through his own interceptions rather than Dalton’s, and that’s a choppy process that everyone is going to have to accept. There were back-to-back possessions in the second quarter that illustrated that growth.

Fields misfired to wide receiver Darnell Mooney in the flats with 5:09 until halftime, and Packers cornerback Rasul Douglas jumped the route for a pick-six to give his team its first lead of the night at 14-10. The throw needed to be between Mooney and the sideline, but Fields left it too far inside and allowed Douglas an opportunity at it.

Fields atoned for it three snaps later when he dropped a spot-on pass over the middle to Damiere Byrd, who went 54 yards for a touchdown. It’d be easy to overlook Fields’ contribution since the throw was just six yards past the line of scrimmage and Byrd did most of the legwork, but his accuracy and touch were essential to the play.

Had Fields not hit Byrd perfectly in stride, he wouldn’t have been able to outrace the three defenders in proximity. Had he needed to reach up or back at all, he likely would’ve been stopped.

In addition to the throw being accurate, it was just the right speed. That’s a big upgrade from the beginning of the season when virtually every pass was a fastball.

His most impressive drive, though, was when he led the Bears to a field goal just before halftime. The Bears were up 24-21 and had the ball at their own 42 with 37 seconds left. It was an easy time to take a knee and go into the locker room with a lead, but the threat of Aaron Rodgers getting the ball to start the second half prompted the Bears to go for it.

Fields hit tight end Cole Kmet near the sideline so he could get out of bounds and stop the clock, then ran out of bounds on a 20-yard run to put the Bears in scoring range. They capped the drive with Cairo Santos’ 44-yard field goal as time ran out.

Throughout all turmoil and turbulence, Fields is rising. That’s crucial because he was one of the few players on the field Sunday who is clearly part of the Bears’ future. He’s central to it.

Everything around him is irrelevant at this point because most of it probably won’t be around him next season.

Nagy’s questionable decisions, the roster moves that led to Xavier Crawford covering Davante Adams, the widespread withering of a once-mighty defense and the Bears’ various other maladies are just ancillary — and temporary. Fields is driving their future, and that’s the best thing about the Bears as they close out another underwhelming season.

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