As teammates filled cardboard boxes and plastic bags with belongings in the Halas Hall locker room Monday morning, Justin Fields took inventory of his second season, one that ended Sunday as an onlooker for the team’s 10th consecutive loss.
Fields said his hip, which coach Matt Eberflus said made the quarterback unavailable for the 29-13 loss to the Minnesota Vikings at Soldier Field, was pretty good, calling it 80%.
“I could’ve (played), but I don’t know if I would’ve played my best game,” he said. “Actually, it really wasn’t up to me. The trainers, they didn’t want me playing. I couldn’t be out there.”
Fields will take a little time to recuperate before diving into offseason training, giving him time to reflect on his first season in Luke Getsy’s offense. He ran for 1,143 yards, the second-most by a quarterback in the NFL history, and passed for 2,242 yards with 17 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
During a four-game stretch beginning in Week 7, the Bears averaged 31 points and Fields threw eight TD passes with only two picks and ran for another five scores. That included 178 yards rushing against the Miami Dolphins and 147 on the ground vs. the Detroit Lions.
“I feel like my overall understanding of the offense kind of hit midseason,” he said.
“The stuff that I was able to accomplish this year, couldn’t have done it without my teammates, coaches, stuff like that. But I also understand that I need to get better at a lot. Got to go back to work to training, get better.”
As disappointing as it was that Fields couldn’t run down Lamar Jackson’s rushing record for QBs — he needed more 64 yards to set the mark — there probably isn’t a person in the organization that wants to see him in striking distance of the achievement in the future. Fields missed a game with a separated shoulder, then the hip injury this season, and was sidelined for four games by injuries as a rookie. The hits from 55 sacks and 160 rushes took a toll.
“It’s a rushing record and I’m a quarterback,” Fields said. “Of course it would’ve been cool to have, but I’m not really into records like that. If there was one record I’d like to break, of course it’d be a passing record, so we’ll see if we can get that done in the near future.”
He expressed faith in general manager Ryan Poles to improve the roster after a 3-14 season that landed the Bears the No. 1 pick in the draft to go with more salary-cap room the team could possibly be able to whittle through in a year.
“I know Ryan has a great understanding of what needs to be done around here,” Fields said. “That’s not my job to control any of that. Whatever he needs me to do in terms of recruiting, I’m sure we’re going to have that conversation in a bit.
“Whatever he’s going to do, I fully trust him. His goal is to make the best team he can for us. I know he’s going to do a great job of that. We’re going to get better and work in the offseason.”
Fields said the four-game streak for the offense sparked optimism moving forward. But maybe the most important element for the 23-year-old is an established relationship with Getsy — one they’ll pick up to refine elements of Fields’ game with improved talent around him.
“Luke’s a down-to-earth guy,” he said. “Probably one of the realest coaches I’ve been around. He’ll tell you straight up. He’s genuine, he’s smart too, so I just love being around and just kind of see his soul and see how pure it is and how pure his heart is.”
The Bears have the buy-in required from Fields and 2023, without question, will be a pivotal season for the quarterback’s future. He has time to heal up before attacking the offseason, mentioning he wants to spend more time with receivers to ensure they’re on the same page.
Fields has energized the fan base and sparked optimism for a team that has so many major questions on both sides of the ball. He’s energized teammates and captured the attention of the rest of the league way back in Week 1 when the Bears upset the San Francisco 49ers in a rainstorm.
“New regime, new GM, new head coach, new team, I think that was a pretty memorable moment for everybody,” he said. “Especially the setting of that game, felt like we were in a movie. That was a great moment of the year.”
Team-wise, great moments were scarce after that. And that’s why Poles, Fields and everyone else involved has much work to accomplish.