LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Justin Fields didn't mince words after an atrocious performance in the Bears' Week 3 win over the Houston Texans.
“Straight up, I played likeー I want to say the “a” word, but I won’t, so I’ll say I just played like trash,” Fields said after going 8-for-17 for 106 yards and two interceptions vs. Houston. “Played terrible, and really just gotta be better.”
That was rock bottom for Fields early in his NFL career. He completed just 23 passes through the first three games of the season and had many wondering if he was long for Chicago. It looked like he and the Bears were speeding toward a perilous crossroads.
But Fields never wavered or blinked. He stayed the course and elevated his game during the second half of the 2022 season.
Since Week 7, Fields is completing 67.3 percent of his passes while throwing for 1,179 yards, 11 touchdowns, and five interceptions. He has also rushed for 718 yards and seven touchdowns during that period.
Fields has gone from franchise question mark to unquestioned centerpiece of a rebuild in eight short weeks.
He never doubted his ability and never listened to those who thought his NFL career might be headed off a cliff after a shaky start to his second season.
The noise around Fields appeared deafening from the outside looking in. But he didn't have to block it out. He never even heard it.
"I always taught myself I’m not gonna take, I’m not gonna take somebody’s opinions to heart when I wouldn’t take advice from you," Fields said Tuesday at Halas Hall. "No offense to people out there, everybody’s entitled to their own opinion, but if I’m not looking to take advice from you, I’m not gonna care about your opinion or what you have to say. I saw a video. I don’t know where I saw it. It was on Instagram where it was like if somebody’s talking bad about you, if they were speaking in a different language and you didn’t know what they were saying, you wouldn’t take it any kind of way.
"Just kind of look at it from that perspective to where they can say what they want, but it really just depends on how you take what they say. I don’t know Spanish. So if they’re cussing me out in Spanish saying I’m this, saying I’m that in Spanish, I’m gonna look at them and smile because I have no idea what they’re saying. So yeah, I think it really just depends on how you take those opinions and if they really effect you or not."
Fields says it "took some time" to get to a point where he doesn't let criticism impact him, but he has always had supreme confidence in his ability.
Entering the season, the Bears were hoping Fields would be able to show consistent progress during a critical second season. Ebbs and flows were expected. But it has arguably been a one-way escalator since Week 7.
The improvements have shown up across the board. But the most important area of growth is the calmness Fields now experiences in the pocket when the live bullets are flying.
“I just can’t describe it," Fields said. "Just a certain way of like, you got to kind of feel the flow of the game. It’s hard to explain it, but once you feel it, I don’t know. I’ll try to put up some words at home and maybe explain it to y’all one day. But it’s kind of just like a feel to where you are just sitting back there and you are just comfortable with the game and with the offense and how the game is going.”
That feeling has steadily grown over the weeks. As Fields has stacked good games and added to his growing highlight reel, the sense of tranquility has grown.
While he has always believed in his talent, he is more at ease now than he was when this crucial season began.
“I think it’s just like a little by little, bit by bit, more by more every game," Fields said. "You just kind of have that feeling in the game, just get in a rhythm and get it going from there."
RELATED: Tired of late hits, Fields plans to 'be on refs' to get flags
Fields is still growing. He has to continue to improve as a passer, but that task will get easier as the Bears add talent around him.
In Sunday's 25-20 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, Fields posted a 119.5 passer rating, the highest mark from any opposing quarterback against the Eagles this season.
Since Week 7, Fields has been one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the NFL. During that time, he ranks fifth in Completion Percentage Over Expectation (4.1), seventh in Expected Points Added Per Play, and eighth in success rate. His EPA + CPOE ranks seventh behind Patrick Mahomes, Jalen Hurts, Dak Prescott, Joe Burrow, Jared Goff, and Tua Tagovailoa.
Fields' growth has made the 2022 Bears season a success. They now have the key piece needed to take the franchise from NFC doormat to hopeful title contender.
That all started with Fields' unflinching belief in who he is and what he can be. The doubts never impacted Fields because, to him, they never existed. He silenced the noise before it even materialized.
Now there's only one type of noise around Justin Fields -- the roars that shake Soldier Field with every mesmerizing play he conjures up each Sunday.
That's noise that doesn't need to be blocked out. The hope is that it is fuel to reach the next stage of his staircase to stardom.