Bears QB Justin Fields ready to make life ‘hell’ for the Packers
Bears quarterback Justin Fields was walking off the field last year — right around the time Aaron Rodgers gave the Soldier Field crowd a military style salute — when Packers defensive coordinator Joe Barry stopped him to chat.
Justin Fields was walking off the field last year — right around the time Aaron Rodgers gave the Soldier Field crowd a military style salute — when Packers defensive coordinator Joe Barry stopped him to chat.
“He said that I made his life hell that week,” Fields told the Sun-Times.
Not often enough. Though he ran six times for 71 yards and a touchdown, Fields went 20-for-25 for 254 yards and two interceptions through the air. His loss to the Packers was his fourth in as many starts, making him the latest Bears signal-caller to struggle against his rival. Mitch Trubisky went 1-6. Jay Cutler went 2-10.
The two of them had to trade throws with a Pro Football Hall of Famers in green and yellow, though. Fields won’t — starting now.
When Jordan Love takes the field in Sunday’s season opener for his second-ever NFL start, it will mark the first time since 1991 the Packers didn’t have a star locked in as their starting quarterback. Fields wouldn’t be born for another eight years.
Fields and Love have been friends since he was drafted by the Bears, connected by their mutual agent. They saw each other for a couple days in Manhattan this offseason, causing Fields to consider what it will be like to see Love annually in the most fabled rivalry in sports.
“It’s going to be fun,” Fields said. “Jordan’s a good quarterback. I’m excited.”
It will only be fun, though, if he can win. In four starts against the Packers, Fields has thrown twice as many interceptions (6) as touchdowns (3) and has posted a passer rating of just 70.7.
Fields’ reputation, both at home and nationally, won’t grow until he can beat his rival. He hashis fifth chance Sunday when the Bears host the Packers at Soldier Field.
“He understands the importance of [the rivalry] for the franchise, for the city, for everybody,” head coach Matt Eberflus said. “He understands that and he’s excited about getting that done.”
Fields’ favorite run of last season was against the Packers. His favorite pass, too.
He could have easily chosen one of the most impressive one-yard touchdown runs anyone’s ever seen, when he sprinted back and forth in the backfield for 34 yards and lowered his shoulder to knock out Lions safety DeShon Elliott for a touchdown at the goal line.
“No, because that hurt me,” he said. “I’m not gonna lie. I acted like it didn’t hurt. … I was just so juiced up in the moment.”
Fields paused when considering his favorite runs. He gave consideration to a run later in that game. He sprinted for a 67-yard touchdown three plays after throwing a pick-six to his friend Jeff Okudah.
“But the Packers one,” he said. “it was just backyard football.”
Fields returned from a separated shoulder to face the Packers in Week 13. He faked a handoff up the middle on second-and-11 from the Bears’ 45 late in the first quarter. Linebacker Kingsley Enagbare crashed down on running back David Montgomery, so Fields kept the ball and ran right. Cornerback Keisean Nixon was blitzing — and waiting. Fields planted his right foot at the Bears’ own 39 and cut upfield. Nixon slipped.
Fields ran up the right hash. No one touched him. With about 30 yards to go, there were no Packers defenders between him and the end zone. He sprinted — as fast as 20.15 mph — for the score.
“The play broke down a little bit and instincts took over,” Fields said. “That was a big momentum for us, going into that.”
His favorite throw of the entire season came 11 minutes later.
At the Bears’ 37, He took a shotgun snap, looked left and saw Equanimous St. Brown running down the left sideline. As he threw, Fields was knocked to the ground by defensive tackle Dean Lowry, the Northwestern alum. Fields landed on his back as the ball flew through the air toward St. Brown, who’d beaten all-world cornerback Jaire Alexander. Soldier Field roared with approval as St. Brown caught the ball and was tackled for a 56-yard gain. The noise, Fields, said, was the only way he knew the ball was caught.
“When you complete a deep ball, complete a pass when you get rocked like that, you feel a little bit better,” he said. “Once you hear the crowd go crazy, that’s when you know you’ve completed the ball.”
Fields will have to complete more passes this year to keep opposing coordinators honest. After he posted the second-best rushing season ever for a quarterback last year, defensive play-callers spent the offseason game-planning how to stop him on the ground.
Until Fields proves that he can complement his running with his passing, he can’t be considered the team’s franchise quarterback. Giving the Packers hell on Sunday — and winning the game — would be a good first step in the defining season of his NFL career.
“Hopefully I can do that in the future to all the D-coordinators that we play,” he said. “Stressing them out and keeping them on their toes, for sure.”