There should be no mischaracterizing this as a good day for Justin Fields and the Bears.
So before he and they try to spin their 28-19 loss to the Packers as progress, here’s someone who won’t sugarcoat it: Veteran safety DeAndre Houston-Carson.
“It’s really sickening,” he said of the loss, which was the Bears’ eighth in a row to their supposed rival. “That’s probably the best word, especially just the way that these games go: It’s tight, it’s tight, it’s tight, and then at some point there’s one drive where they get it.
“To lose in that manner over and over again is the most disappointing thing… And it’s really sickening to lose to Green Bay.”
That’s the unfiltered truth.
Fields threw two interceptions in the final three minutes. The Bears didn’t score a touchdown after the 6:09 mark in the second quarter. The defense broke on Christian Watson’s 46-yard touchdown run with the game on the line and allowed the Packers to roll 18-0 in the fourth quarter.
There’s no polishing that.
The Bears have seen this opponent at its peak, and this wasn’t it. This was a depleted version of the Packers and a diminished version of Aaron Rodgers, who was already talking about shutting it down for the season once they’re eliminated from the playoffs.
This was their chance.
It also was Fields’ chance to deliver the signature victory that has eluded him his first two seasons. The stage was set beautifully for him to do something memorable as he gutted out pain — he played through it straight-up, no pre-game injection — in his return from a separated non-throwing shoulder.
Fields was headed toward heroics until everything crumbled at the end. It was the same story in Atlanta two weeks earlier and in the losses to the Lions and Dolphins before that.
After a missed field goal by Cairo Santos and various other snafus allowed the Packers to take a 20-19 lead with 4:49 left, Fields was in that familiar position. He pushed the Bears to the Packers’ 43-yard line with three minutes left, and that was when the good vibes fizzled.
Fields threw downfield for Equanimeous St. Brown on a route designed for him to break sharply back toward the line of scrimmage. But Packers cornerback Jaire Alexander broke faster and beat him to the ball for the interception.
St. Brown left the locker room before the media entered, forfeiting the chance to tell his side of it, but he’ll hear the echoes of Fields and coach Matt Eberflus pinning that pick on him throughout the bye week.
“That’s a trust throw,” Eberflus said. “That he’s reading it and, man, he’s going to let it rip and [St. Brown has] got to do a great job of stepping up and making those plays. [Alexander] made a nice play. He jumped it. But hopefully our receiver can jump out and knock that down, if possible.”
Fields added, “You just like to see the receiver come back to the ball. We always just try to tell the receivers that those DBs want that pick each and every time, so they’re going to attack that ball.”
Before that throw, Fields completed 16 of 19 passes for 224 yards. With that pick and another one fired out of desperation with 51 seconds left and the game already lost, he finished 20 of 25 for 254 yards and a 75.7 passer rating.
He also ran six times for 71 yards, including a 56-yard scramble for a touchdown late in the first quarter.
Fields was upbeat afterward, saying the 20.15 miles per hour he was clocked at on the touchdown was below his usual 21 or 21.5, asserting that it’s inevitable the Bears will start stacking wins and calling it a step forward for him.
“This was one of my best games, passing-wise,” Fields said. “Of course, the stats won’t show that. I felt really comfortable out there in the passing game.”
If the stats don’t illustrate it, perhaps he can. What felt so right?
“I don’t know,” he said. “I just felt comfortable.”
Until the end.
His performance shows potential, certainly, but not necessarily progress. The eagerness to proclaim Fields a finished product is understandable given how starved the Bears have been for a franchise quarterback, but Fields still has steps to take. He’s on track, but he’s not there yet.
Fields gets some margin as he tries to grow into this job, but it’s concerning that he has thrown interceptions on an NFL-high 4% of his passes this season. He has thrown 10 fourth-quarter interceptions in 20 games.
The losses don’t matter as much in a rebuilding season, but eventually they will. And if these issues persist into a season in which the Bears actually have some aspirations, that’s going to be very uncomfortable.