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FFL: Offseason | NFL: Superbowl

Fields' emergence gives struggling Bears hope for future

Thu Dec 8 1:55pm ET
By ANDREW SELIGMAN
AP Sports Writer

Related photo caption below

Chicago Bears' Justin Fields thorws during the second half of an NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)


Related photo caption below

Chicago Bears head coach Matt Eberflus watches warm ups before an NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)


LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) The Chicago Bears had the ball late in the first quarter when Justin Fields noticed Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Kingsley Enagbare crashing the line last week.

At that moment, he made a decision. Rather than give the ball to running back David Montgomery, he opted to keep it.

Fields faked a handoff and started dashing toward the right sideline before making a vicious cut back toward the middle to avoid Packers cornerback Keisean Nixon in the backfield. He then floored it, racing 55 yards untouched to the end zone on his latest spectacular run.

Fields' emergence after a slow start to his second season is by far the most important development for the Bears in a year when wins have been scarce. Chicago (3-10) stumbled into its bye with six consecutive losses since a Week 7 stunner at New England and nine in the past 10 games after falling to Green Bay.

''(Wins are) going to start rolling in here soon, so just got to keep working and keep getting better,'' Fields said.

Chicago has just two winning seasons since the 2010 team lost to Green Bay in the NFC championship game. General manager Ryan Poles and coach Matt Eberflus inherited a big job when they took over for the fired Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy in January.

There are still plenty of issues to address on both sides of the ball if the Bears are going to climb out of the NFC North's cellar. Their defense wasn't dominating early in the season, even before Robert Quinn and Roquan Smith were traded prior to the deadline. And safety Eddie Jackson's season-ending foot injury against the New York Jets two weeks ago was another big hit.

An offense that was already short on playmakers also lost a key figure that day, with top receiver Darnell Mooney suffering an ankle injury that will keep him out for the remainder of the year.

Fields missed that game after dislocating his non-throwing, left shoulder the previous week against Atlanta. But he was back to his explosive ways last week.

Fields threw for a season-high 254 yards to go with the big touchdown run and completed 20 of 25 passes. He had a 56-yard completion to Equanimeous St. Brown that set up a touchdown and a 49-yard pass that a leaping N'Keal Harry caught against his helmet, though he was also intercepted on the final two possessions.

''We all know he's athletic, but I don't think people give him enough credit as a thrower,'' St. Brown said. ''He's a great passer. He makes impressive throws even on the move. So I think he deserves more credit than he is given as a passer.''

Fields' progress coming off a shaky rookie season has transformed an offense that struggled to score early in the season. The Bears have averaged about 25 points over the past seven games compared to 15.5 in the first six, though they're still unbalanced with a run game that leads the league and a passing attack that ranks last.

''The foundation we're laying in terms of how we play, the intensity of which we play,'' Eberflus said. ''You can see a spirited team out there -- a team that perseveres through adversity, which is what you need. We're trying to build championship habits. I keep telling the guys that. It's championship habits. Every single week, one week at a time.''

Fields leads all quarterbacks - and ranks seventh overall among all player - in rushing with 905 yards. He's averaging a league-leading 7.1 per carry, and with eight rushing TDs, he's second only to Philadelphia's Jalen Hurts (nine) among QBs.

Fields' three touchdown runs of 50 yards or more are the most by a quarterback in a season. No other QB in the Super Bowl era has done it three times in a career. Two of Fields' 13 touchdown passes are for 50 yards or more. By comparison, from 2019 through 2021, the Bears' offense produced three TDs from Chicago territory.

No wonder cornerback Jaylon Johnson is glad he doesn't have to face Fields in a game. He sees enough in practice.

''You see him running and you're like, 'Man, you probably would have got tackled,''' Johnson said. ''Just going against the defense. We're like, `Man, we're tackling you.' Then when you go out there on a Sunday, you're like, `No, they're not tackling that dude.'

''Sometimes we get in practice and what we used to call sacks last year or at the beginning of the year, we're like, `Oh, sack. Sack. Sack.' It's like, `No, that probably wouldn't have been a sack.'''

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