This is what “Be you” really looks like.
The Bears are finally letting quarterback Justin Fields play his way, and he delivered a record-breaking performance that provided a lot of promise despite a 35-32 loss to the Dolphins on Sunday.
Fields is no longer being coached counter to his skill set. Instead, the Bears are embracing and enhancing it.
He ran for 178 yards, the most by any quarterback in a regular-season game, on just 15 carries. His 123 yards passing left much to be desired, but he was efficient with 60.7% completions and a 106.7 passer rating.
The old-school measurements don’t matter for a new-school quarterback. The bottom line was Fields gave the Bears a combined 301 yards and four touchdowns between his running and throwing. Regardless of how he arrived at those totals, that’ll work.
A performance like that makes his rookie season with Matt Nagy so much more irritating than it already was. Nagy’s motto was “Be you,” but evidenced in his counterintuitive coaching and ill-fitting play calls for Fields and even Mitch Trubisky, what he meant was, “Be what I want you to be.”
Fields had more yards rushing (424) in the first eight games than he had all of last season under Nagy.
Fields running like that isn’t a gimmick. It’s a big component of what has made him great at every level of football, and it didn’t make sense to scrub that from his game and think he could flourish.
The prevalent concern about injury is valid, but there’s little point in putting restrictions on him just for the sake of preservation because then the Bears would be preserving a reduced version of him. If he’s their guy, they need to let him do his thing.
Fields took the NFL lead in rushing yards by a quarterback (602) with his spectacular game Sunday, though Ravens star Lamar Jackson went into his game Monday night trailing by just 49. After those two, it’s the Bills’ Josh Allen, the Giants’ Daniel Jones, the Cardinals’ Kyler Murray and the Eagles’ Jalen Hurts.
Those are impressive names. Jackson has an MVP on the shelf, and it seems inevitable that Allen will get one. Hurts is among the frontrunners this season.
Jackson is the gold standard of dual-threat quarterbacking, and inexplicably the Bears always seemed to discourage Fields from following that model. He could run, sure, but don’t take it that far. Why not?
That seemed to click for coach Matt Eberflus and offensive coordinator Luke Getsy during the layoff before the Patriots game, and they actually plagiarized one of Jackson’s plays.
Jackson has never shied away from running, and he has missed time because of it, but not too much. The contingency is to develop a backup quarterback who plays a similar style, as the Ravens have with Tyler Huntley.
Between passing and running, Jackson produced an average of 273.5 yards over the first eight games this season. Over the last five games, Fields is at 261.2.
In that span, 34.8% of his total yardage has been as a runner, and that would drop if he put up bigger numbers passing. Jackson got 36.7% of his production by rushing as a rookie, but that settled to 25.3% over his next four seasons.
Jackson didn’t change his style, steadily averaging around 10 runs per game throughout his career. He just got more out of his passing ability.
Fields is at that same juncture.
He’ll always be a great runner, but he won’t always run for the NFL record. And on days when he runs for more modest totals, like the 53 yards per game he averaged before Sunday, he knows 123 yards passing will be insufficient.
But this is just the beginning for a guy with 19 starts. He just began sketching the outline of what he can become. Now it’s time to start filling it.