Outside of Halas Hall, talk surrounding the Bears has gone from optimistic before the season began, to disappointed after Week 1’s loss to the Packers, to full blown doom and gloom after Week 3’s blowout loss to the Chiefs. Playoff aspirations have been dashed. Chatter about whether or not Justin Fields will crack top-five in MVP voting has turned to whether the Bears should use a top-five draft pick to bring in a new QB next season.
Inside Halas Hall, it’s a different story. The team certainly isn’t happy with the results over the first three weeks of the season, but there’s no panic. And by all accounts, Fields– who’s become a lightning rod for criticism recently– is handling the storm in stride.
“He's doing a really nice job in the midst of a lot of s–t right now going on,” said offensive coordinator Luke Getsy. “He's manning up and he's taking a leadership role for these guys. It's been good to see him be able to put it on his shoulders and be the guy that wants to help make this thing get right.”
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Getsy’s first sentence might sound hyperbolic, but Fields has had to wade through a whole lot over the first three weeks of the season. His play has not been good. Fields has completed just 58% of his passes, has averaged 175.3 passing yards per game and has a poor 3:4 TD:INT ratio. Fields hasn’t been able to get anything going on the ground either, averaging 4.5 yards per carry now that defenses have adapted to his game-breaking scrambling. By comparison, Fields averaged 7.1 ypc last season.
Fields deserves some blame for his slow start, and the slow start of the offense as a whole. He’s held onto the ball too long and missed open wide receivers at times. But he hasn’t gotten much help. Getsy’s playcalling has been questionable at times and has sometimes put Fields in position to fail. Calling three screen passes in a row against the Bucs, which ultimately led to a pick-six comes to mind. Missed assignments from his teammates have hurt, whether they be someone whiffing on a block or wide receivers running routes poorly to ruin the spacing of plays.
There has been off the field drama, too. Last Wednesday, Fields pointed to coaching as part of the reason for his poor play. He thought he was playing too robotically in his quest to play up to his coaching points perfectly. The media firestorm that followed was so great that Fields pulled reporters back to his locker to clarify he wasn’t blaming coaching for his bad performances. The critiques of his initial comments were so acerbic that it wasn’t surprising to see Fields speak in generalities, in a reserved tone at his following Wednesday press conference.
“I seen him at the podium yesterday. I told him he should smile more,” DJ Moore quipped. “I think he handled it well. I’m proud of him.”
The one thing Fields’ teammates commend most about his leadership style is his consistency. He hasn’t increased his intensity, changed his messaging or tried to be a different type of person in the locker room. He’s stayed true to himself. To quarterbacks coach Andrew Janocko, that steadfast mentality is critical for any QB who wants to rally his teammates.
“Think about during a storm, where all the animals huddle under,” Janocko said. “They go to the evergreen tree because no matter what the season is, it’s always a constant, it’s always there. Just being that guy that no matter what’s going on around him, no matter what the storm is, no matter the circumstances, good, bad, hot, cold, pretty ugly, you’re that guy and everybody can count on you to get your job done.”
You’ve heard of “boy math,” and “girl dinner.” You can probably file away that evergreen tree bit as “football science.” It’s probably not true in the real animal kingdom, but in a football setting it makes sense.
“He’s always himself,” said starting running back Khalil Herbert. “Not being too high, not being too low on anything. Just staying right here, being even-keeled. Obviously a lot’s been going on, but not focusing on it, just coming in ready to work every day and being the same person he is every day at practice.
“He comes out there every day with a smile on his face and demands greatness out of us, demands we come out there and work and focus and lock in on what we’ve got to practice.”
“He’s a true leader, really,” said rookie right tackle Darnell Wright. “Even if we were 3-0 I think he’d be the same person.”
As Herbert said, Fields demands excellence at practice, but he also takes time to encourage or praise his teammates on an individual level. That means a lot to players like Darnell Wright, a rookie in the locker room.”
“He’ll come up to you and say, ‘Hey, let’s lock in. Let’s handle business,’” Wright said. That goes a long way, really, when you’re a new guy on the team, f—g Justin Fields is talking to you like, ‘Hey, what’s up, it’s time to lock in,’ you know what I mean? He’s a cool dude.”
Ultimately, Fields’ leadership style breeds confidence for his teammates. Again, outside the locker room most are ready to write off the Bears as one of the worst teams in the NFL. Inside the locker room, Fields continues to give his teammates faith.
“It’s a long season,” Wright said. “It gives everybody confidence to just keep chipping away, and eventually we’ll make things happen.”