CHICAGO (AP)One question loomed as large as a Chicago skyscraper when the Bears began the season. And it looks as though Justin Fields is starting to give them the answer they hoped to received.
The former Ohio State star is showing signs he just might be the quarterback to solidify the position. And that by far is the biggest development of the season.
The Bears (3-6) passed the halfway point with reason to feel there’s hope, with Fields progressing and the offense starting to put up points at a rate that hasn’t been seen in Chicago in a long time. The encouraging signs were there in a 35-32 loss to the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.
”It’s really a joy to see him mature, see him get better and him wanting to improve every single week,” coach Matt Eberflus said Monday.
The quarterback question was by far the biggest coming into the season, the first under general manager Ryan Poles and Eberflus. The Bears made no splashy offseason additions to fix a struggling offense and were banking largely on improvement from within, particularly by their quarterback.
Fields, coming off a shaky rookie season after being drafted with the No. 11 overall pick, struggled early this year. But he has found a groove in recent weeks, with the Bears calling more designed runs. He’s looking more comfortable passing, too, though the numbers remain far from gaudy. But after being at the bottom of the league in passer rating, Fields was 22nd through Sunday.
Against Miami, he was something to see.
Fields simply dazzled, setting an NFL record for a quarterback in a regular-season game by running for 178 yards. That topped Michael Vick’s 173 for Atlanta against Minnesota in 2002. Colin Kaepernick ran for 181 yards for San Francisco in a playoff victory over Green Bay during the 2012 season.
Fields scrambled for a 61-yard touchdown – the longest run by a Bears quarterback – and threw for three scores. He also became the first player since at least 1950 with at least 150 yards rushing and three TD passes in a game.
It was just the latest in a string of performances showing he just might be the man for the job.
Fields, the No. 11 pick in the 2021 draft, has thrown for 851 yards, completing 76 of 120 passes, with eight touchdowns with two interceptions in his last five games. He also has rushed for 455 yards and three TDs in that time.
”Just when you see him running and we’re, like, running a route, you can kind of tell from his demeanor,” tight end Cole Kmet said. ”All right, just get out of his way. Let him do his thing.”
The run game. The Bears are averaging a league-leading 195.4 yards rushing per game. It’s not just Fields, who has a team-high 602 yards and is averaging 6.6 per attempt – second to Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson. Khalil Herbert has 586 yards and is averaging 6 yards per attempt.
The defense. The Monsters of the Midway weren’t exactly striking fear in opponents even when they had three-time Pro Bowl defensive end Robert Quinn and linebacker Roquan Smith. By trading the two most important players in their front seven, the defense figures to be in for more rough times.
The Bears have allowed 84 points over the past two games. They got torched for 49 at Dallas two weeks ago after sending Quinn to Philadelphia and were picked apart by Tua Tagovailoa and Tyreek Hill in the 35-32 loss to Miami on Sunday following Smith’s trade to Baltimore.
Herbert. Along with Fields, Herbert has also made a big jump in his second season. He has already surpassed his total of 433 yards last season, and his average per carry is up substantially from 4.2 as a rookie.
WR/KR Velus Jones Jr. The rookie muffed two punts in a three-game span last month, contributing to losses against the New York Giants and the Washington Commanders. He lost that job to Dante Pettis.
CB Kindle Vildor (ankle) was hurt in the Miami game. But the Bears’ most important players are healthy.
125.7 – The Bears clearly have room to grow in the passing game, considering they’re averaging a league-low 125.7 yards.
The Bears host the Detroit Lions, who stopped a five-game losing streak by handing Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers their fifth loss in a row.
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP-NFL