Justin Fields provides a reason to believe. Brad Biggs’ 10 thoughts on the Chicago Bears QB’s record-setting day in a Week 9 loss.


10 thoughts after the Chicago Bears fell to the Miami Dolphins 35-32 on Sunday at Soldier Field on a record-setting day for Justin Fields, who rushed for 178 yards, the most by a quarterback in a single game in NFL history.

The offense has been cooking, scoring 29 points or more in the last three games, something the Bears have accomplished only six times in the Super Bowl era.

1. Bears play-by-play man Jeff Joniak used the word ‘ridiculous’ to describe Devin Hester when the trailblazing returner was doing his thing.

It stuck for Hester throughout his career, which will lead him to the Pro Football Hall of Fame one day soon. Joniak might need a thesaurus as Justin Fields’ career takes flight for the Bears.

It’s way premature to suggest Fields is blazing his own trail to Canton, Ohio. I’m not going there and you shouldn’t either. But the Bears are cooking with gas right now on offense — after years of trying to make a meal with a rickety grill and wet charcoal — and it’s captivating a city that doesn’t know what it’s like to experience offensive fireworks on a regular basis.

There’s a ton to dissect coming out of this wild game on a gorgeous fall day along the lakefront. A week after the Bears allowed the Dallas Cowboys to score touchdowns on their first four possessions, the Dolphins reached the end zone on four of their first five possessions with the only failed effort ending in a missed 29-yard field goal by Jason Sanders, who was 31-for-31 inside of 30 yards in his career before the kick.

Any other year, almost any other week, and that would have spelled doom for the Bears. They still lost this game to fall to 3-6, but if you’re in the camp that says this season is as much or more about Fields’ development, this game was reason to believe in the process. There’s a lot of work to be done — and we’ll touch on some of that in a bit — but Fields accounted for four touchdowns, racing 61 yards for a score and throwing a career-high three touchdown passes.

The Bears offense clawed its way back into a game that looked like it would be a runaway, and it had two chances in the fourth quarter to tie or go ahead. The coaches will use teaching points from those possessions, but before we get into that, let’s consider what Fields did in completing 17 of 28 passes for 123 yards and the record rushing effort in a turnover-free performance.

“A huge step for Justin Fields and the franchise today,” coach Matt Eberflus said.

Fields was sound with his decision-making. Was there a choice or two he’d like back? Sure. You’ll find those every week. But the Bears converted 10 of 16 third downs and were 1-for-2 on fourth down, with a bad drop by wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown on fourth down dooming the final possession. Not included in Fields’ passing yardage was a 28-yard pass interference penalty on Dolphins cornerback Keion Crossen, who probably should have been called for a second infraction in the fourth quarter.

All of Fields’ strengths were on display. He feathered a perfect ball to Darnell Mooney on a corner route for a 16-yard touchdown in the second quarter on third-and-8. He used deft play action with tight end Cole Kmet, hitting him for touchdowns of 18 and 4 yards. He scrambled to move the chains on third-and-8 and third-and-7. He’s showing better pocket awareness, and from all accounts the game is beginning to slow down for him.

The 61-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter, which came on third-and-5, will be a highlight played a lot in years to come. The Bears were expecting man coverage, and the Dolphins showed that pre-snap but actually played Cover-3.

The offense was running a mesh concept with Kmet and wide receiver Chase Claypool running shallow crossers underneath the linebackers, trying to draw their attention. Wide receiver Darnell Mooney was running a sit route in the middle of the field. There’s a chance, when you look at the coach’s film, that Fields could have banged the pass in there to his intended target.

But Dolphins defensive end Bradley Chubb got the edge on left tackle Braxton Jones, who set a little too shallow. Fields began to feel the edge pressure and pumped to Mooney, holding linebacker Jerome Baker.

“I was stepping up in the pocket looking for Moon, and right when I was about to throw it to him, he turned around so I had to pull the ball back,” Fields said. “At that point, instincts took over.”

What stands out is how Fields was able to compose himself almost immediately after the fake and make himself skinny to get through the wash at the line of scrimmage. From there, the Dolphins had three players to tackle him. Baker, linebacker Duke Riley and Crossen all missed, with Mooney hustling to cut off safety Jevon Holland, a really nice play.

Fields wound up with eight designed runs for 68 yards and another 110 yards on seven scrambles. He has had 25 designed runs in the last three games.

The Bears haven’t reached the yardage totals they would like, but the passing game is becoming more efficient. Fields is 47 of 72 (65.2%) for 453 yards with six touchdowns and one interception in the last three games and the team has scored 94 points. It’s a work in progress and no one expects anything different.

“Listen, it is a blessing,” said free safety Eddie Jackson, one of the most tenured players in the locker room in his sixth season. “It’s something that you can’t take for granted. I tell the young guys all the time, ‘(The offense is) doing everything we ask.’ It’s never been like this since I was here. We’ve just got to give them some help. We can’t continue to lose games.

“This is my first time being a part of a defense where we’re giving up, what, 30 points two weeks in a row? That’s not us. We’ve got to stop that. We’ve got to put a stop to that fire early. We’ve got to have more of a sense of urgency early on. I know we’re a second-half team, but we’ve got to be able to play all four quarters.”

It’s a dramatic change. Not long ago, Jackson would acknowledge, if the Bears allowed 20 points to the opponent, it was often too much to overcome.

“Justin, man, you see he’s growing into one of the best quarterbacks in this league and the offense is doing a great job,” Jackson said. “I’m glad he is on our team. That’s what we were saying on the sideline, ‘I’m glad we’ve got 1 on our side.’

“It’s different. It’s pocket awareness. He keeps his eyes downfield and it’s just his legs. He also can throw the ball. That is one of the most dangerous quarterbacks ever. He can sit in the pocket and throw the ball and he also can escape and use his feet. It’s tough.”

Veterans and younger players alike were disappointed after the fifth loss in six games, but there’s a feeling they’re witness to the birth of something.

“I think it’s special,” Eberflus said. “We are building our football team. We have a young football team. We are building upon that. And the centerpiece of that is the quarterback.”

We’ll see what Joniak cooks up to describe Fields on days like this.

2. Justin Fields didn’t only break Michael Vick’s single-game record for rushing yards by a quarterback.

Vick had 173 yards in the Atlanta Falcons’ 30-23 overtime win over the Minnesota Vikings on Dec. 1, 2002. Fields’ 178-yard performance also surpassed Bobby Douglass’ Bears record that stood for nearly 50 years. Douglass rushed for 127 yards on Dec. 17, 1972, at Oakland.

“I guess you could say it’s bittersweet,” said Douglass, 75, who watched the game on television in Lake Forest. “You always want to hold a record for a while. I just wish I had a little more opportunity to play in a more wide-open offense. I’m not saying I’d have a lot of 178-yard games, but I could run. It would be fun to play today. I think I would gain 1,000 yards a year pretty easily.”

Douglass held the NFL record for rushing yards by a quarterback in a season with 968 in 1972 until Vick ran for 1,039 in 2006. The Baltimore Ravens’ Lamar Jackson set the current record of 1,206 in 2019 and ran for 1,005 yards in 2020. Those are the only three seasons to top Douglass.

Douglass’ single-season team mark is in jeopardy with Fields at 602 yards with eight games to play, on pace to rush for 1,137 yards. Of course, Douglass set his record when the NFL regular season was only 14 games, but Fields could move well past it.

“I’ve said all along he has tremendous ability and obviously I am one of those guys that thinks quarterbacks need to run and use their athleticism, and he’s about as good as any of them right now,” Douglass said. “Similar to Vick maybe. Vick was kind of like me. We could make a lot of yards by scrambling and using our ability to run. Justin is probably further along in the passing side, which all of us have to be able to throw the football too. So he’s further along probably than certainly I was or even Vick was with the type of offense he ran in college.

“Let me start by saying this: The game when I played was a little different. They didn’t spread the field out or let you spread the field on offense like they do now, and of course the reason they do that now — and it’s been a gradual movement that started in the late ‘70s — (is) that offensive linemen can use their hands. That opened up the ability to block, made it easier, and teams started responding to that by throwing more. Anybody that played back in that era knows that. That was a huge change. When I played, the defensive back could hit the receiver anywhere on the field. If the ball wasn’t in the air, the defensive back could shove the guy completely more than they can today.

“That’s a big, big difference in the passing game that started in the late ‘70s up to now. They’ve made it more advantageous to throw the football, and it has led to what I would say is a better game. There’s more scoring. It’s more wide-open football. The reason you now have quarterbacks who are going to be more athletic, that field has become more spread out.

“You’re not seeing as many Tom Brady-type quarterbacks sitting in the pocket. You’re seeing an athletic guy sitting in the pocket and then scrambling. So it’s an advantageous thing if you have one of those guys. I think Fields is right up there with the top guys that are going to be able to do that for a long time. And he’s learned to throw the football.”

Douglass said he watches every Bears game and as much NFL action as he can on television. He’s excited about where the Bears offense is headed, decades after he was a left-handed thrower with a cannon and a speedy, rugged runner at 6-foot-4, 225 pounds. Ahead of his time, for sure.

“His instincts today were great,” Douglass said of Fields. “When he realizes he’s got a real good pass rush, he gets up the field. You’re seeing him in the last three games, he’s taking off: ‘I need to see what I can get.’ He’s a great runner. I was a great runner. I could do some things other guys couldn’t do. We didn’t have a lot of offensive weapons at that time. He’s got two good running backs. I think they’re doing the right thing.”

Douglass is eager to see how the offense can continue to grow with a mobile quarterback who threatens the defense in so many ways.

“To be honest with you, I didn’t know I had the (single-game) record,” he said. “I know I have the season record. Looks like if Justin keeps running like this, he’ll break that pretty easily. It’s always fun to look back.”

3. Players who were with the Dolphins a year ago got a look at Justin Fields during joint training camp practices at Halas Hall.

They got another look at him on film in preparation last week. Seeing Fields on the field versus on the screen in a meeting room or on a tablet is, well, a very different experience.

“He ran for almost 200 on us,” cornerback Keion Crossen said. “We knew that he would run. We knew that he would keep his team in the game on third down and third-and-longs. Obviously he’s not just a stick figure. He’s not going to stay in one spot. He did a great job of us in that run aspect. He can run the hell out of that ball.”

Said linebacker Jaelan Phillips: “It’s what you would expect, but, man, seeing him in person is different. He’s legit. No doubt. He’s dynamic. He can run, he can throw. He’s definitely a threat. We mixed it up. We tried to throw a lot at him, but he handled it. He’s legit.”

Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel said the defense had a plan for slowing Fields. Miami used a spy at times, but whatever it tried didn’t work until the very end of the game.

“Justin Fields is as dynamic with the ball in his hands as any player in the league,” McDaniel said. “That was a big point of emphasis going into the game, just knowing how he’s really helped change that offense’s complexion the last couple weeks. You do your best. There were a couple missed tackles live that I saw that you’d love to have.

“He’s as fast as any skill-position runner. Like he is really, really fast and he can cut and break tackles. There are a lot of running quarterbacks. This one in particular is very elite and adept at that. In those type of situations, it ultimately comes down to an arm tackle a lot of times and a difference between a sack and a 40-yard explosive, so you have to go back to the drawing board.

“We had a plan. They definitely got the better of us in that regard, so we’ll take a look at the tape and see how we can improve because that’s something that will always be the case in this league. There’s going to be dynamic players at that position.”

Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa thought Fields had topped 200 rushing yards. He seemed almost surprised to learn it was 178.

“Geez,” Tagovailoa said. “I mean, dude is a baller. He was making some plays in the pass game as well. I’m happy for him. I’m happy for the success that he’s finding. He’s finding himself in this league. I think people are starting to recognize more, the more he gets out and has those opportunities to play.”

As difficult as it is for the Dolphins or any other defense to prepare for Fields in practice, I asked Bears tight end Cole Kmet if he sees some of these highlight-reel runs — the third-and-longs that Fields converts with his legs — or touchdowns in practice.

“It really doesn’t show up in practice because you’re working the schemes,” Kmet said. “That’s just him playing ball. That is just him being a football player. In practice, we’re working scheme, hitting guys. You’re getting certain looks, things like that. When it comes to game time, you’ve got to go play.”

When you have to go play, that’s when the pressure is on the defense.

4. Finally, I thought it would be interesting to get the perspective of veteran offensive linemen on a quarterback who can take over a game with his legs like Justin Fields.

Riley Reiff made his 126th NFL start in this game. He protected Matthew Stafford in Detroit, Case Keenum and Kirk Cousins in Minnesota and Joe Burrow in Cincinnati last season. The right tackle said he never has blocked for a talent like Fields.

“He’s electric every time he has the ball,” Reiff said. “He’s just getting better every game and it’s fun to watch. He’s going to be something. He is really, really coming on.

“I don’t know if there are many quarterbacks in the NFL that move better than him. There probably isn’t. He’s getting better every week communicating and being on the same page with everyone — tight ends, wide receivers, running backs. It’s fun to watch. Obviously we’ve got to clean up some stuff as whole. We just have to stick to it.”

Former Bears guard/center Roberto Garza broke into the league with the Falcons in 2001, Michael Vick’s rookie season, and was part of the offensive line that protected Vick for his first four seasons. So Garza has an appreciation for the experience.

“If you’re an offensive lineman, there are plays you are going to get beat,” said Garza, who watched Sunday’s game from his home in Texas. “To know when that happens, the quarterback can get 60 yards for a touchdown, it makes it really tough for the defenses to defend.

“What do you do? Are you going to stop Fields? Are you going to stop the running game? Or now with (Chase) Claypool and (Cole) Kmet and (Darnell) Mooney, it’s kind of looking they have a complete offense that can put pressure on defenses. They can’t just sit back there and say, ‘We’re going to take the running game away.’ They have a lot of different ways they can beat you, and it’s going to be interesting to see how they continue to evolve in that offense with the players they have now.

“You made the comparison to Michael Vick. It is amazing to see how fast Fields is when he’s outrunning the defense. It looks like the defense is standing still. He’s moving at a different speed. That’s the same way we would look at Vick when we first got to Atlanta. You’re just looking up and saying, ‘Is our quarterback really moving that fast?’

“The runs (Fields) made were impressive, but some of the throws he made, the decisions were good. They were using his strengths, the play-action pass, the bootlegs, get him outside the pocket. You saw plays catered to his strengths and you saw what the offense was able to do — put up 32 points. That was fun to watch.”

What can the Bears expect from the next couple of opponents, who will try to draw up something to prevent Fields from shredding them with his legs.

“It was always a spy,” Garza said. “That was the one thing they tried, to have someone spy on Vick. That opens up the tight end. That opens up some routes for receivers, right, because now you’re taking one defender away from the coverage, which is going to be to Justin’s advantage.

“Defenses are going to say, ‘Well, we’re going to take away his legs,’ but if he’s throwing the ball well and making good decisions, he can use that part. That’s the game they are going to play. What are they going to try to stop and what are they giving us?”

5. The Bears aren’t the first team to use cash in trades to acquire draft picks, and we’re starting to see more of that.

They paid down the contracts of Robert Quinn and Roquan Smith to facilitate deals, getting draft picks in return that no doubt were enhanced by the money and salary-cap space involved.

Money was a significant element of the biggest deadline trade a year ago when the Denver Broncos sent pass rusher Von Miller to the Los Angeles Rams for second- and third-round picks. To make the deal work for the cap-strapped Rams, the Broncos paid down $9 million of the remaining base salary in Miller’s expiring contract. Miller went on to be a key piece of the Rams’ Super Bowl run, and the Broncos were happy to get prime picks in return.

Maybe the most stunning deal involving a transfer of a contract and draft picks was the 2017 trade between the Houston Texans and Cleveland Browns. It didn’t involve a contract being paid down, but a bad contract no one wanted was dealt. The Texans traded quarterback Brock Osweiler, a 2017 sixth-round pick and a 2018 second-round pick to the Browns for a 2017 fourth-round pick.

The Texans were driven to dump Osweiler’s $16 million contract in 2017 and shed the cap hit, and the Browns were willing to assume the contract to get a second-round pick back. That 2018 second-rounder turned into running back Nick Chubb, the league’s leading rusher this season.

The Bears paid down $7.1 million of Quinn’s remaining salary for this season to get a fourth-round pick from the Philadelphia Eagles, who owe the veteran defensive end only $684,444 for the rest of the season. The Bears paid down $4.833 million of the remaining base salary in Smith’s contract to get second- and fifth-round picks from the Baltimore Ravens along with linebacker A.J. Klein. The Ravens owe Smith only $575,000.

The Texans and Browns weren’t the first to do something creative. That deal stands out, though, because of the size of the contract involved. Overthecap.com notes that a team paying down a contract to trade a player dates to at least 2011, when the Seattle Seahawks did so with edge rusher Aaron Curry to make a deal happen with the Oakland Raiders.

There are numerous other examples since, and it led me to wonder if teams have a chart for how much cash and cap space influence a trade involving draft picks. One criticism I heard from various front-office types around the league about the Quinn deal is the Bears paid a lot of money to get only a fourth-rounder. Of course, it’s possible that was the best or only deal GM Ryan Poles could make.

“I need to do a study,” one veteran personnel man said. “We were looking at that (when he was with another team) and we didn’t see the value in paying it down (to facilitate a trade). Let’s just boil it down to if you could buy a draft pick, what would you pay? Let’s just say they are for sale. And that’s essentially what they are doing — they are paying down the remainder of the base salary for the draft pick.

“So if you can buy a draft pick, what’s it worth? We didn’t dive deep into it and we need to do that. On the surface, we were thinking it’s not worth it because of the surplus value and all of that. When I came here, our cap guy said, ‘We did a study. It’s totally worth it.’ It’s an interesting concept that I want to do my research on.”

Sounds like an offseason task, for sure. The personnel man said his initial reservation is that the draft is a crapshoot, especially in the later rounds. It’s like buying a mystery box. You have no idea what will be in the box when you open it.

“If you do the trade, you eat up the surplus value,” he said. “The banner example we had was when Cleveland did the trade with Houston for the quarterback (Osweiler) and ended up getting the draft picks and taking on that disastrous Osweiler contract. Well, the Browns hit on Nick Chubb. On the one side, he’s a second-round pick and you say, ‘OK, you bought that pick. It’s Nick Chubb. That’s great. He’s a great player.’

“The other side of it is you’ve got Nick Chubb, but you spent X-amount of dollars for that pick, so you’re not getting him on a true rookie deal. You’re getting Nick Chubb and you paid $16 million for the quarterback you didn’t want or use. Because you had to buy the pick to get the player in the first place, and pay that much money, you paid a lot more for Chubb than the money that was in that rookie contract. You following me here?

“So there are two avenues to look at it. Maybe you look at it as you pay $16 million for that guy’s rookie season and then he’s on the rookie contract. It’s a reason I really want to study it and look at it. That’s what it looks like (with Chubb) when you hit. What if you buy a first-round pick for $20 million — and I’m throwing a random number out — and then you draft Jerry Tillery or Billy Price? All of a sudden you have paid for that pick — and paid the rookie contract — and it’s a total bust.

“People have such different viewpoints of the draft. I’m more in line with the idea of having a known commodity. I’ll do what the Rams did or what San Francisco did with Christian McCaffrey, while other people are more about stockpiling picks and saying, ‘Look what I could get in the draft with these picks. I could get Nick Chubb in the second round or Fred Warner in the third round.’ It’s just your personality. Great topic.”

6. Offensive coordinator Luke Getsy said something interesting Thursday.

Getsy said the Bears had technology they felt could help get wide receiver Chase Claypool, acquired in a trade last Tuesday, up to speed quickly, knowing a coach couldn’t be with him around the clock.

Claypool was on the field for 25 snaps by my unofficial count and was targeted six times with two receptions for 13 yards. He had a 4-yard run as well. Turns out, Getsy can be with Claypool around the clock — which helped prepare him for the game — and likely will for the next few games.

“He has these awesome install videos,” Claypool said. “It’s just him in front of a green screen and a play in the background — installing a play. So it’s like OTAs. I’ve been watching them. They’re long. It’s like movie night for me, I guess. But that has helped. It’s all the coaching points that you need.

“The tough part is there was game prep and then there is other installs on these videos that were not a part of the game prep. I have to balance learning the whole playbook, or trying to, but also understanding what’s going to happen that week. Not everything is going to be in there. It’s helpful.”

Claypool said he watched the install videos on his tablet with a notebook open next to it.

“(Getsy) always sneaks in a little joke,” Claypool said. “He makes it fun to watch a video. You don’t want to be sitting there for an hour or an hour and a half and it’s just a dry video. He knows that. He does a really good job. He’s awesome.”

Claypool called his debut a nice launching board to an expanded role in the offense. He knows it will be a while before he has a grasp of the entire system, but it looked like Getsy had specific stuff in mind for Claypool to get him involved early. He was targeted on a wide receiver screen on his first snap, and on his third the Bears took a deep shot downfield that drew a 28-yard pass interference call against Keion Crossen.

“I’m definitely looking at this game as a really good foundation going into next week,” Claypool said. “Understanding how the huddle is called by Justin (Fields) and the speed of the offense in terms of lining up and playing. I think understanding that now is just going to help me so I can play more comfortable and slow the game down.”

Said Fields: “He did a great job this week, studying and preparing for the game. For the plays that he was in, he did the right thing. I think the more reps he gets, the more comfortable he’s going to get with the offense, and of course the more detailed he’ll be with each and every route.”

7. It will be interesting to see how Roquan Smith performs in the second half of the season for the Ravens and how the 25-year-old’s career goes from there.

He has a very good chance of reaching free agency, and then we’ll get a gauge of his value on the open market. Does he get a deal near the top of the pay scale for stack linebackers, or does he experience something similar to what Lance Briggs did in 2008, when he wound up re-signing with the Bears for a figure closer to the team’s number than his?

I have written many times in this space about positional value, noting that linebackers who are not edge rushers are generally not considered near the top of the draft or for huge contracts. There are exceptions, but it’s unusual when inside linebackers are selected in the top 10. Some like to say the top 10 picks are for players who produce touchdowns — quarterbacks, wide receivers and left tackles — and players who stop touchdowns — pass rushers and cornerbacks.

The Bears drafted Smith at No. 8 in 2018 for a couple of reasons. First, they had a need at the position in a defense that was playoff-ready under former coordinator Vic Fangio. You can make a case they needed a “safe pick,” too, considering 2016 first-round pick Kevin White was well on his way to being an injury-riddled flop and 2017 first-round pick quarterback Mitch Trubisky was on the roster. In that sense, general manager Ryan Pace could feel very safe with Smith’s floor. The Bears knew he would be very good even if he didn’t play a premium position. He turned out to be very good.

I asked Matt Eberflus on Wednesday if, when he was the Indianapolis Colts defensive coordinator in 2018, they would have considered Smith if Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson wasn’t available.

“At 5 (actually the Colts picked No. 6)?” Eberflus said.

Yeah, Smith was taken a few picks later.

“(Smith) was 11, right?” Eberflus said.

No, he went at No. 8.

“Eight?” Eberflus replied. “Yeah, I don’t think at that time (Colts GM Chris) Ballard was in the business of taking an off-the-ball linebacker at 8. I don’t think I could convince him of that.”

That’s a revealing take from Eberflus about the significance of positional value. The irony is the Colts chose a guard, another position that ranks lower in positional value. Nelson was the third guard drafted in the top 10 since 2002 when the Colts selected him, and he has proved worthy of the lofty pick as a four-time Pro Bowl and three-time All-Pro selection. If he remains at that elite level, Nelson could be on his way to becoming a Hall of Fame player. I don’t think you would say the same thing about Smith. That’s not a knock on Smith. Again, he is talented and has been very productive.

The Colts needed a linebacker that year, too, and wound up selecting Shaquille Leonard in Round 2 with the 36th pick. Leonard is at the top of the pay scale for off-the-ball linebackers with a contract that averages $19.7 million. That’s the range Smith aims to be in, and because the Bears and Smith couldn’t reach agreement on a contract extension, it’s fair to wonder if the team didn’t believe he was quite at that level.

“We always base things on numbers and production,” Eberflus said. “And to us, we covet ball production in that position, so that right there is a very important thing that Will linebacker needs to do. Again, we loved Roquan. We made him an offer and they couldn’t find common ground and that’s where it went.”

Leonard’s ball production has been excellent. He had 12 interceptions, 17 forced fumbles, seven fumble recoveries and 31 pass deflections through his first four seasons in Indianapolis. Smith had five interceptions, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and 20 pass deflections through his first four seasons.

Smith, who makes his debut with the Ravens on Monday night in New Orleans, could go on to bigger and better things, and he’s just entering the prime of his career. If he does, Bears fans may rue his departure much the same way they did that of Greg Olsen after the tight end was traded to the Carolina Panthers in 2011. The problem with Olsen’s departure was the Bears struggled, with the exception of a brief stay by Martellus Bennett, to get production from the position. If the Bears draft and develop a weak-side linebacker next season who turns into a real player, it will be a lot easier to justify the Smith trade, especially because the team won’t have a boatload of cash and cap space tied up in him.

Considering Ebeflus’ background — he was a linebackers coach for his first nine seasons in the NFL — I think the Bears like betting on the idea of the staff developing a player at that position. Just don’t look for the Bears to spend a high first-round pick on a linebacker.

8. The Bears came up short with a chance to tie or go ahead late in the fourth quarter.

They started on their 15-yard line with 7:50 remaining, trailing 35-32. Fields converted two third downs with his legs before a third-and-13 throw to N’Keal Harry wasn’t close. The Bears punted but got the ball back on their 28 with 2:38 remaining and one timeout.

Fans will talk about what should have been a pass interference call against Keion Crossen on Chase Claypool on third-and-10. The cornerback was pulling Claypool down as he tried to high-point the ball. Equanimeous St. Brown then dropped a fourth-down pass.

There’s a lot to sift through in the final two possessions. A nuanced discussion of Fields’ emergence and continuing improvement includes realities for the passing game, which is a combination of the quarterback, his targets and his protection. The only throws Fields consistently makes from the pocket are fades or go routes. You didn’t see him attacking the middle of the field as Tua Tagavailoa (21 of 30 for 302 yards) did. On the final two possessions, the Bears called 12 passing plays. Fields was 2 of 6 for 4 yards. He scrambled four times — one time taking off before he got to the top of his drop — for 31 yards and was sacked twice.

When the Bears needed to throw the ball at the end of the game, they couldn’t. Fields has topped 200 passing yards only once this season, hitting 208 in the Week 5 loss at Minnesota.

“It’s great to put them in the moment to win the game,” Matt Eberflus said. “You know, like I told the guys in the locker room, ‘Guys, just keep working, keep having determination, get tighter as a group. We’re building the football team.’ They understand that. I know everybody was disappointed, but we were right in it at the end and those experiences are invaluable for our football team to be able to be in those moments.”

There’s a lot to build off and work for everyone to do. Fields will continue to grow, and when he becomes more dangerous as a passer — when the pass volume and production rise — then 32-point showings will become more the norm. That hasn’t been the case in these parts for a very long time.

9. Veteran Riley Reiff started at right tackle and likely triggered a $4.5 million bonus in his contract by being on the field for 70 snaps.

Reiff has a clause in his contract that triggers the payment if he’s on the field for 10% of the offensive snaps this season and the team improves in one of six offensive categories. Reiff is a lock to be above 10% as he played 71 snaps through the first eight games and now is at 141. That will easily reach the threshold as the Bears had a total of 1,122 offensive plays last season and are on pace for 1,031 this season. Even with a substantial uptick in plays over the final eight games, Reiff should be OK if he doesn’t get another snap the rest of the way. I’m not suggesting by any stretch he’s done playing for the season either.

The incentive was obviously written to be easily achievable for Reiff and lower his salary-cap figure for this season to $3 million, meaning incentives he reaches will come out of the 2023 cap. The unknown is what the six offensive categories are. If any of them involves the rushing offense, that figures to be a layup at this point the way the ground game is churning out production. Here are some other basic stats from 2021 compared with this season:

Category: 2021/2022

  • Points per game: 18.3/20.8
  • Yard per game: 307.4/321.1
  • Sacks per game: 3.4/3.7
  • First downs per game: 19.6/18.0

Reiff was hampered by an ankle or foot injury in training camp and preseason but is more mobile now, and the coaching staff has given him high marks for the leadership he brings to the position room, in particular the guidance he has provided rookie left tackle Braxton Jones.

Reiff has been gritty the last two weeks and I wouldn’t be surprised if he stays on the field for more action. At some point, I wonder if the Bears will want to evaluate Alex Leatherwood, who was inactive for Sunday’s game.

10. If Velus Jones Jr. can’t return punts — the Bears benched him after the Washington game on Oct. 13 — and can’t run jet sweeps, what can he do?

The answer was not much this week as the rookie third-round pick was a healthy scratch. Jones had been returning kickoffs and was on the field for a season-high 15 snaps last week at Dallas, but he didn’t get a uniform for Sunday’s game.

“It was about special teams,” Matt Eberflus said. “We looked at our roster, our cover teams, and we thought we needed to have other guys up for our cover teams. With Dante Pettis doing a good job with the punt returns, we thought this week that was the right thing for us to do, and also based on the receiver position, we thought it was the best thing to do.”

The receiver group only will get more crowded if the team designates Byron Pringle to return from injured reserve. The Bears started the 21-day practice window to consider bringing back Pringle from IR on Oct. 26. That will expire on Nov. 15. If Pringle, who is working his way back from a calf injury, rejoins the fold, where does Jones fit in then?

Having more skill-position options — which the trade for Chase Claypool added — is a good thing. Having a third-round pick who can’t find his way on the field for a young team with offensive and special teams needs is a bad thing.

10a. Chase Claypool said he was trying to high-point the pass from Justin Fields with 90 seconds to play when he felt Dolphins cornerback Keion Crossen restrict him before the ball arrived. A penalty there would have put the Bears in range for a Cairo Santos field goal if it didn’t set them up for a winning touchdown.

“I was trying to go attack the ball,” Claypool said. “It felt like I was getting pulled back a little bit. It doesn’t really matter what I think. Just got to get up and let the game, I guess, unfold the way it does.”

Said Crossen, who didn’t see it that way: “I have just as much right to the ball as he has when the ball is in the air as long as I have my eyes back. I talked to the ref at first after the PI call. As you could see, they were calling it pretty tight, so they didn’t allow a lot of handfighting. There was a lot of handfighting at first. He said, ‘You kind of just have to run with them.’ I said, ‘All right.’ If we’re going to do that, I changed my leverage to outside leverage so I could get my eyes back quicker. I got my eyes back quicker, you know, he was more so trying to box me out. I was helping him out.”

Earlier in the fourth quarter, Bears safety Eddie Jackson was called for a pass interference penalty that gave the Dolphins 47 yards. Tyreek Hill was open deep and Tua Tagavailoa’s pass floated downfield. A strike would have been a touchdown. As it was, Jackson was able to range over to be there when the ball arrived. It looked like there was contact but certainly less egregious than the Crossen play.

“How do you make a call like that?” Jackson said. “What? I didn’t hit the receiver one time I was looking for the ball, like I don’t know. You call me not playing the ball, what did you call the guy (Crossen) he wrapped his arms around the dude (Claypool)? What is that? You don’t see that? It’s crazy. There’s nothing we can do. They don’t get fined for it, you know what I mean? We say something about them, we get fined. What are they going to do to hold them accountable?”

10b. The blocked punt falls squarely on the shoulders of running back Khalil Herbert. Jaelan Phillips came through the line and Herbert tried to cut block him and whiffed. Andrew Van Ginkel recovered the block and returned it 25 yards for a touchdown, a costly miscue for a special teams unit that has been very solid.

“I tried cutting him,” Herbert said. “I’ve just got to cut him. If I’m going to cut him, I’ve got to cut him inside/out. If I am going to stand up, I’ve got to block him.”

10c. The Bears tried to make a splash in free agency by signing defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi, a deal that fell apart over concerns after a physical. The Bears also made a bid at the outset of free agency for left tackle Terron Armstead. He wound up signing a five-year, $75 million contract with the Dolphins with $30.2 million guaranteed at signing.

“I think that was the first team we talked to,” Armstead said of the Bears after the game. “Sixty seconds into free agency, they called my agent. It was early in the process. I talked to them early, Colts, Bengals too. I had a nice amount of teams. It was a feel-out session really.

“The Bears situation was never close. We didn’t really lock in with them. They called back again a couple days into free agency, but I don’t think we were close to anything.”

10d. Linebacker Matt Adams, who was placed on injured reserve Oct. 11 with a calf injury, worked out on the field before the game. He has missed the minimum four games, and based on how he looked — he was running and cutting well — it would not be surprising if the team started the 21-day window this week to activate him from IR.

10e. Mike McDaniel is only the second Dolphins coach to win at least six of his first nine games. The Dolphins are 6-3. They started 7-2 in 2000, the first season Dave Wannstedt was coach.

10f. The Fox Sports crew of Kevin Kugler, former Bears quarterback Mark Sanchez and Laura Okmin will call the Detroit Lions-Bears game Sunday at Soldier Field.

10g. The Bears opened as two-point favorites over the Lions at Westgate SuperBook. It’s the first time the Bears have been installed as a favorite since the Week 3 meeting with the Houston Texans, when they opened as three-point favorites.



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