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NFL Draft

Why Justin Fields’ 1st Start Means Everything To Bears Fans

  • The Draft Network
  • September 23, 2021
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If you aren’t a fan of the Chicago Bears, then you probably can’t appreciate the magnitude of Justin Fields’ first start of his career, which is coming this Sunday at Cleveland against the Browns.

Sure, the general football fan is always excited to see a young dual-threat first-round quarterback make his debut. But for Bears fans, the trauma and pain caused by failed quarterback trades, signings, and draft picks make this moment a critical one in their fandom. Fields not only controls the fate of the Bears’ franchise for the next several years; he might be the only quarterback who’s capable of finally breaking this team’s curse at the position.

The list of failed Bears quarterbacks is downright offensive. The most recent and biggest example of a Chicago bust behind center is Mitch Trubisky. Fair or not, Trubisky is the poster child for the Bears’ failures at identifying players who can competently lead an offense that resembles something more recent than a 1990 playbook.

Trubisky played four years for the Bears after being selected second overall in the 2017 NFL Draft. He started 50 regular-season games and finished with a 29-21 record. He threw 64 touchdowns to 37 interceptions and completed 64% of his passes. He was his tenure’s version of who Mark Sanchez (stylistically) was for the New York Jets in the late 2000s, early 2010s—a premier draft pick destined to have a long career as a backup.

But it would be unfair to say Trubisky was the worst of the quarterbacks who’ve tried exorcising the demons at Halas Hall.

In 2009, the Bears traded a boatload of picks for Jay Cutler, who at the time was considered one of the NFL’s best young gunslingers. He immediately won the hearts and loyalty of Bears fans because of their hunger for a franchise quarterback, but his tenure with the Bears was average, at best. Cutler played eight seasons in Chicago and started 102 games. He finished with a 51-51 record; nothing tells the story of Cutler’s tenure as a Bear better than that .500 finish. 

It wasn’t all average for Cutler, however. He holds almost every Bears passing record and gave the team a somewhat relevant passing attack despite failing to record a single season of 4,000 or more passing yards. Still, he was—and remains—the standard by which all Bears quarterbacks will be measured moving forward.

And that’s sad.

But to understand why Cutler is that standard, and why Trubisky actually isn’t the worst of the bunch, you have to look at who they both played with and who preceded them: Matt Barkley, Brian Hoyer, Jimmy Clausen, Josh McCown, Jason Campbell, Caleb Hanie, Todd Collins, Kyle Orton, Rex Grossman, Brian Griese, Craig Krenzel, Chad Hutchinson, Jonathan Quinn, Kordell Stewart, Chris Chandler, and Henry Burris. Each one of those quarterbacks started at least one game since 2002 (through 2016). Once  Cutler handed the Bears’ QB curse to Trubisky, the first-rounder shared starts with Mike Glennon, Chase Daniel, and Nick Foles (through 2020).

The jinx continued into this season despite the excitement around Fields, who the Bears selected with the 11th overall pick in April’s 2021 NFL draft. Andy Dalton—who fits the profile of Chicago’s fraternal organization of unqualified starters—lined up with the first team in Weeks 1 and 2.

Bears fans have lived this life, this tortured existence, for decades. The list of Chicago’s bumbling starters extends into the late-90s, with players like Cade McNown, Shane Matthews, Steve Stenstrom, and Moses Moreno. Rick Mirer started games; so did an ancient Dave Krieg. Even Peter Tom Willis was once throwing passes as a first-teamer at Soldier Field.

Fields, in a way, is in an advantageous position. He doesn’t have to be great to be the best quarterback in Bears history. All he has to be is better than Cutler—a .500 quarterback—and he’ll own Chicago. He’ll be the king of the city. The toast of the town. And for once, it feels like the Bears have a guy who’s capable of being that player. Who’s capable of handling the pressure that comes with quarterbacking in a big media market. As he told the media Wednesday at Halas Hall, he’s ready.

“I’ve been preparing for this moment for a long time,” Fields said. “My mindset doesn’t change, I’m still going to have to play my football and just prepare the best I can. Like I said before, get a lot of practice reps and study, study, study, and get more comfortable and confident with the plays and stuff like that.”

A good way to scout whether a quarterback is actually ready for the moment is how he handles chaos on the field. According to coach Matt Nagy, Fields has already aced that test.

“I think he’s had some of the calmest feet that I’ve been around with a quarterback,” Nagy said Wednesday. “He’s really calm in the pocket. He feels comfortable in the pocket. But the thing is that’s good for us and the Bears is that he feels comfortable outside the pocket, too.”

These things matter to Bears fans who’ve watched Trubisky turtle under pressure. Who’ve witnessed Cutler shoulder-shrug his way to the sidelines. Who’ve experienced Nick Foles… play like Nick Foles.

So while some may say that Bears fans need to settle down and lower their expectations for Fields, the reality is those same Bears fans have the lowest quarterback expectations of any franchise in the league. 

And that might all finally change, beginning in Week 3.

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