Forty minutes after the Chicago Bears’ 20-point loss Sunday afternoon, quarterback Justin Fields came to his postgame news conference at AT&T Stadium expressing optimism.
“I think we’re growing, getting better each and every week as an offense,” Fields said. “I’m just proud of the guys and the way they fought. We were down early but they didn’t waiver. We kept the same mentality and just chipped away. I thought, as a whole, we played well.”
Fields wasn’t wrong. He played well Sunday, albeit in a 49-29 beatdown by the Dallas Cowboys. The Bears offense had a solid afternoon, too.
Fields was correct in pointing out that the Bears’ 29 points were the most scored against the Cowboys this season. Their 371 total yards were also the most given up by Dallas over the first eight weeks.
Fields threw for two touchdowns and ran for another, the first time in his career he has accounted for three TDs in the same game. His 73.9 completion percentage was the highest in his 18 career starts. His 120.0 passer rating was a career best and just the second time he’s gone over 100.
“I’m getting more comfortable with the offense,” Fields said. “I think our guys are too as a whole. I think we’re growing.”
For the third consecutive week, the Bears rushed for more than 200 yards and padded their league-best average to 188.4 rushing yards per game. For coach Matt Eberflus, the emergence of a top-tier running attack has been satisfying.
“It’s really just all 11 guys really committed to that style,” he said. “I really believe that’s the Chicago Bear way.”
In a season in which playoff aspirations were always considered a longshot, the Bears must continue embracing a growth mindset, highlighting progress even when the sting of losing remains sharp.
That, for all intents and purposes, is why Sunday’s defeat — the Bears’ fifth in the last seven games — didn’t feel overwhelmingly demoralizing or jarring.
After all, the Bears started October in an offensive funk. Over the first three games of the month, they managed just three touchdowns, averaged 13.7 points in a string of three losses and only scored on 10 of 30 possessions.
Yet over seven days at the end of the month — and against a pair of quality defenses in the New England Patriots and the Cowboys — the Bears racked up 761 total yards, scored 62 points and put points up on 12 of 22 possessions with seven touchdowns.
Said running back Khalil Herbert: “It’s guys buying into the detail, making this offense come alive.”
With an inconsistent defense that now no longer has either Roquan Smith or Robert Quinn, the Bears offense will have to carry a heavier load. And it will be on Fields to spearhead that effort.
Here’s your Week 8 QB Rewind.
In the final minute of the first half, Fields completed a 75-yard scoring march with a 17-yard TD dart to N’Keal Harry, a play that was impressive in its fluidity. With the Cowboys showing a cover-zero shell before the snap, Fields made an alert protection check, trusted his line and running back David Montgomery to protect him against a seven-man rush, then hit the top of his five-stop drop with good rhythm and clean footwork.
Harry, working out of the left slot against cornerback Kelvin Joseph, ran a crisp route against cornerback Kelvin Joseph and gained inside leverage. The timing of the play was in sync.
Throw, catch, end zone party.
“N’Keal ran a great route,” Fields said. “And I just put it on him”
Added Eberflus: “The pocket was really nice and he hit him.”
It should be noted that the Bears caught the Cowboys with only 10 defenders on the field for that play. Still, that throw capped a 12-play TD drive that cut into the Cowboys’ 28-7 lead and put the Bears back into the game before halftime. The Bears added a field goal just 40 seconds later, then finished their run of 16 unanswered points with a 62-yard third-quarter TD drive that pulled them within 28-23.
All of that was a show of resolve and moxie from the offense, an ability to rally even when faced with a massive early deficit. The ability of Fields and the offense to retain their competitive edge is notable. That kind of consistent fire will be needed to keep the Bears feisty down the stretch of a season in which they will be underdogs in just about every game.
Finding answers Sunday — like the TD pass to Harry — offered promise.
Fields’ prettiest pass came in the second quarter, a deep shot to rookie receiver Velus Jones Jr., who ran a go route against Cowboys cornerback Anthony Brown. The Bears were trailing 28-7 at the time and in big time need of a spark. When Jones slipped behind Brown, Fields had exactly what he wanted.
Fields’ deep ball traveled 54 yards in the air and dropped right into Jones’ hands. But as Jones dived and hit the ground, the ball squirted out.
“That ball,” Eberflus said, “was on the money.”
Instead of a 48-yard gain and a first down at the Cowboys 5, the Bears had to reset.
They did so successfully and still finished that possession with a touchdown. But that was the latest example of an opportunity that was missed because the Bears don’t have enough playmakers.
Would it have been a really nice catch by Jones? Yes. Should it be considered a drop? Absolutely.
That shot was one of a handful ideal deep-ball opportunities the Bears couldn’t quite connect on. The first came on their first snap when Equanimeous St. Brown got behind Brown deep up the right side. Fields, though, was a beat late in launching and underthrew St. Brown, who had to slow down and failed to corral the pass as Brown closed ground and made a play on the ball.
Eberflus held Fields accountable for the miss, estimating that St. Brown had up to 4 yards of separation at one point.
“We’ve got to let that air out,” he said. “J. knows that. Just a little underthrown on that one. … You’ve got to air it out and let him run under it.”
According to Next Gen Stats, Fields was 3-for-8 for 70 yards and a touchdown on passes thrown more than 15 yards beyond the line of scrimmage Sunday. That didn’t include a second-quarter interception on a pass he sailed over Dante Pettis while being hit. Fortunately for the Bears, that giveaway was negated when Cowboys defensive end Chauncey Golston was flagged for a questionable roughing the passer penalty.
Two of Fields’ other downfield misses came on end zone shots in the final minute of the first half, one a corner route to Dante Pettis that was broken up by cornerback Daron Bland and the other a free-play, jump ball to St. Brown that didn’t connect.
“That was a wonderful throw,” Eberflus said. “I’ve been saying it all along. (Justin) is a wonderful deep ball thrower. He can put it on a dime, drop it in the bucket, whatever metaphor you want to use. He certainty had a couple of good ones.”
Fields knows part of the quest this season will be figuring out a way to have more regular success with the vertical passing attack.
“If you want to have success in the NFL you’re always going to have to be able to stretch the defense vertically,” he said. “You have to take those shots downfield so they’re not all up in your grill.”
On the bright side
Fields’ connection with third-year receiver Darnell Mooney continues to grow, with the pair combining for five completions and 70 yards Sunday. Mooney’s longest grab went for 36 after he froze All-Pro cornerback Trevon Diggs with a post-corner route in the third quarter, creating a zip code’s worth of separation and giving Fields a massive window to throw into.
It was a dazzling route making life easy on the quarterback.
Mooney’s production uptick has been encouraging. In the Bears’ first four games, he totaled eight receptions for 121 yards. Over the last four, he has had 17 grabs and 243 yards.
Mooney is still looking for his first touchdown and first 100-yard game of the season. But that should be coming, perhaps as early as Sunday when the Bears host the Miami Dolphins.
The Dolphins rank in the bottom 10 of the league in passing defense, allowing 262.1 yards per game. They have given up 12 touchdown passes and have allowed five opposing players (including three receivers) to top 100 receiving yards.
Odds and ends
- It’s still hard to fathom what the Bears were doing with their final offensive snap of Sunday’s first half, calling a shovel pass to Montgomery on third-and-4 from the Cowboys 18 with 11 seconds to play. After the game, Fields said he thought it was a good play call. Added Eberflus: “We like that play. We knew they were going to be softer there. And we wanted to work on that shovel. That was going to be a good play for us. It just broke down for whatever reason.” The easy interpretation is the Bears were content to settle for a field goal to finish a spirited rally at the end of the first half and therefore took the most conservative path possible to setting up Cairo Santos for what became a 36-yard kick. (Montgomery was stopped for no gain on the shovel pass.) But in a season in which Fields needs to gain experience and show playmaking in big moments, the Bears have to have something inside the playbook that would have allowed their young quarterback to take a calculated shot into the end zone — or at least beyond the line of scrimmage — without a high risk of a turnover.
- One of the Bears’ sloppier sequences — a botched trick play in the second quarter — was actually set up to be a touchdown or a huge gain had it been executed better. The play started with a quick forward pass to Pettis along the left side with a design for a lateral all the way back across the field to where Montgomery was waiting with what should have been three blockers (Sam Mustipher, Riley Reiff and Teven Jenkins) to clear out one Cowboys defender. But it appeared Montgomery was a little sloppy with his spacing and Pettis was inaccurate with his throw back across the field and the play didn’t connect. Officials penalized Pettis for an illegal forward pass on what looked to be a legal lateral. Either way, that’s a play the Bears were kicking themselves for not capitalizing on. The window of opportunity was there and the Bears slammed it shut on their own fingers.
- The Bears offense committed six penalties for 45 yards Sunday. Immediately before Montgomery’s costly fumble and Fields’ mental error in not touching Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons down, the Bears incurred a false start on tight end Trevon Wesco after there was mass confusion in getting properly aligned. That was less an error on Wesco and more a collective communication breakdown with several players looking confused. On the first play of the next series, Cole Kmet was called for holding on what would have been a 36-yard zone-read keeper run by Fields.
- The Bears must break their habit of falling behind early soon. Over the first eight games, their opponents have scored first five times and have held the lead at halftime in seven contests. Overall, the average halftime score has been opponents 16, Bears 10.