Despite a 4-9 record and a head coach who’s in his final days on the job, the Chicago Bears’ future is, in fact, bright. It’s obvious why, too. Quarterback Justin Fields has injected optimism into a team that’s otherwise hopeless, and as is normally the case with first-year passers, Fields is expected to make a significant improvement in his already impressive play in 2022.
Part of what makes Fields so special, beyond his gifted right arm and superb athleticism, is his deeper understanding of the importance of the moment. Put another way, Fields doesn’t let the highs or the lows get to him; there is no extreme. We see proof of this every week now that he’s the unquestioned starter. He celebrates a big play and shrugs off a bad rep. He never gets on his offensive linemen despite plenty of near-death moments that would’ve justified it, and he’s always dapping up his wide receivers even after a costly drop. Most importantly, when he has a bad play, or when he makes a bad throw, he maintains a next-rep mentality. NFL players are only as good as their last rep anyway, and Fields gets it.
Week 14’s loss to the Green Bay Packers provided an example of this next-rep process Fields uses. After throwing a horrific pick-six to Packers cornerback Rasul Douglas, Fields—on the very next series—tossed a dart to wide receiver Damiere Byrd for a touchdown:
Fields gave us an even deeper look inside his head after the Packers loss when he said games like Week 14’s, even though disappointing, are important pieces to building a winning organization.
“That’s the one positive we are going to take out of this loss, is that we are continuing to get better each and every week,” he said. “And we’re going to continue to do that, and hopefully build, not only next game, next game, next game—but also this next year, too. Just keep on building and kind of change the culture around here.”
Changing the culture inside a locker room is a challenging task and generally requires two important pieces: a franchise quarterback and a head coach who commands respect. The Bears have 50% of that winning formula with Fields on the roster, even if the wins haven’t been plentiful in 2021.
“That’s one of the hardest things when you are losing,” Fields said. “There’s so many people saying this and that, but you kind of just have to look at the positives and build on that. And just know that this isn’t going to change overnight. You just have to keep building. It’s going to be hard, but you just have to find the positive.”
It isn’t hard to find the positive in Fields’ game this year. He’s provided some real highlights for NFL fans, and even future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers has taken notice.
“I think he’s a really talented kid,” Rodgers said on the Pat McAfee Show. “Obviously he’s got a good arm on him, he can really move around and extend the plays and make plays outside the pocket. The most important thing for young players is to continue working on the little things and the little details…He has a lot of star qualities, his presence, and his ability.”
Not a bad public endorsement and I’m sure it’s one that was really difficult for Packers fans to stomach. But it’s important to note when a young player earns that kind of respect and praise from one of the best to ever do it. As the old saying goes, ‘game recognizes game.’
The road ahead won’t be easy for Fields. It won’t be easy over the final four games of the 2021 season and his quest to rebuild the Bears’ winning culture in the offseason will be even harder. But if there’s any player who has the mental makeup and physical ability to do it, it’s him. The entire city of Chicago is hoping so, at least.