Every game for the Bears and quarterback Justin Fields this season needs to be viewed through a microscope and a telescope.
The dominant victory over a decent Patriots team Monday, for example, was indisputably a momentous win in and of itself. Given how few of those impressive conquests the Bears have enjoyed over the past decade, that’s worth something. Game day was fun again. It’s been a while.
But for the party to continue, these have to be true steps forward in the long run.
And with Fields being young and unproven — it was his 17th start, and he’s had a sub-80 passer rating in more than half of them — the question every time he plays well is whether the Bears have found the start of something big.
Optimism comes easily after watching him rip through a top-10 defense on the road. Fields was efficient as a passer, going 13 of 21 for 179 yards with a touchdown and an interception, and ran 14 times for 82 yards and a touchdown. The combined passing-rushing total of 261 yards was his sixth-highest, and aesthetically, the designed runs, deep throws and misdirection looked like a viable template for the Bears.
The offense had 14 plays of 10 yards or more, scored on 7 of 11 possessions (the Bears intentionally gave one away in the final minute out of sheer mercy) and converted 11 of 18 third downs.
Here’s a look at what went so well:
How an offense fares usually hinges on third-down success, and the Bears made dramatic improvement after converting just 35.6% over the first six weeks (24th in the NFL). They were especially good when they put the ball in Fields’ hands.
Fields completed 5 of 7 passes for 89 yards — one misfire was an interception — with one sack and rushed five times for 47 yards. The Bears picked up a first down on 10 of those 13 plays, including on third-and-six, 14, 16 and seven.
One of the most interesting plays was the third-and-16 shortly before halftime. With the Bears at the Patriots’ 27-yard line and 19 seconds left, it would have been logical to call a run and perhaps get five yards closer on the field goal.
Instead, Fields gave them a chance to keep playing for a touchdown by hitting Darnell Mooney for 17 yards.
He rolled right and didn’t have a chance to set his feet for the throw, but this was a perfect example of why he’s more than just a “mobile quarterback.” While Fields used his feet to create space by rolling, it was his arm strength and accuracy that helped him get the ball to Mooney on the sideline in a tight spot. The throw covered 23 yards, and it was right on target.
With a penalty, the Bears got to the 5-yard line and ended up kicking a field goal anyway because they ran out of time. But as automatic as Cairo Santos has been, he certainly liked Fields cutting his attempt from what probably would’ve been 40-plus yards down to basically an extra point.
If Fields can continue to be effective as a runner and passer, that causes issues for opposing defenses all over the field. There were many plays in which the Bears took advantage of the Patriots diverting significant attention to Fields.
That’s rarely clearer than when he scrambles out of the pocket and creates indecision for defenders as to whether they’re going to play for him to take off running or hold steady in coverage, and the Bears used that on third-and-seven in the middle of the third quarter.
Patriots linebacker Mack Wilson ripped through the line and lunged at Fields as soon as he dropped back, and when Fields dodged him and rolled left, Adrian Phillips was waiting for him. In part because of that, Devin McCourty had no help covering tight end Cole Kmet up the left sideline, and Kmet had a couple of steps on him.
Fields’ throw was short rather than leading Kmet up the sideline, making it difficult forKmet to fightthrough McCourty to get back to the ball and make the catch in bounds. But the opportunity was there because the Patriots were forced to guard against Fields running.
Speaking of running, Fields has been as fast and elusive as any quarterback in the NFL other than the incomparable Lamar Jackson. Among quarterbacks, Fields is second to Jackson in yards rushing (364 and runs of 20-plus yards (three) and third in first down pickups by rush (25).
On his 20-yard scramble late in the first half, which put the Bears in scoring range, he escaped two would-be tacklers that most quarterbacks probably couldn’t. The Patriots overpowered the Bears’ offensive line, and defensive lineman Daniel Ekuale had a chance to drop Fields for a 10-yard sack, but couldn’t get a hand on him. Then, as Fields emerged from the crowded backfield, Phillips didn’t pick him up quickly enough to get a good angle, and that allowed him probably an extra nine yards.