It’s been nearly a week since the Chicago Bears wrapped up the preseason with a narrow victory over the Cleveland Browns and while roster cutdowns and waiver claims have been top of mind, many people are still talking about the performance of quarterback Justin Fields from that game.
Fields was masterful, completing 14-of-16 passes for 156 yards and three touchdowns. He was getting it done in and out of the pocket with accurate throws and deceiving motions that confused the Browns defense.
It was just what Bears fans wanted to see from their second-year signal caller, but we have also seen this story before when it comes to young quarterbacks impressing in the preseason and failing in the regular season.
Notably, former 2017 first-round pick Mitchell Trubisky comes to mind during his rookie year when he lit the NFL world on fire in the preseason, but struggled when the games actually counted. It’s easy to chalk up strong preseason performances to vanilla coverages and playing against reserves, but this feels different with Fields, and it’s coming at the perfect time too.
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Before diving into Fields’ play, let’s rewind back to 2017 with Trubisky and his first preseason. Even though this was Trubisky’s rookie year and Fields’ second season, both are young quarterbacks during this period and are learning new offenses. Trubisky wowed from the start, going 18-of-25 for 166 yards and one score in his debut against the Denver Broncos, giving Bears fans hope they had finally solved their quarterback woes.
His success didn’t stop there either as Trubisky continued to play strong in the preseason his next two games against the Arizona Cardinals and Tennessee Titans. He finished the preseason 36-of-53 for 364 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions in four games. Compare that stat line with Fields’, who went 23-of-30 for 243 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in three games and both players look very strong.
Like the previous weekend with Fields, the fanbase was through the roof over Trubisky’s potential during this period in 2017. Even national media pundits believed the Bears finally were over the hump when it came to their quarterback woes.
Mitchell Trubisky MVP. You better get used to saying that.
— Colin Cowherd (@ColinCowherd) August 11, 2017
Trubisky just stood in on 3rd-and-18, took hit and threw a dart to Deonte Thompson. Yeah, this is 2nd/3rd string time, but he's making plays
— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) August 11, 2017
For all the praise being heaped on Trubisky, he was still operating as the backup to Mike Glennon, though, knowing he wasn’t starting Week 1. In fact, he didn’t know when he would enter a game for the first time, which creates uncertainty for a position that requires players to be consistent in their preparation. Needless to say after finally getting the starting nod in Week 5 of that year, Trubisky’s rookie season was a wash and provided only a few highlight plays before the Bears switched head coaches heading into 2018.
Bringing it back to the present, what does any of this have to do with Fields and his recent success? For one, Fields had a similar situation during his rookie season in 2021, outplaying the quarterbacks on the roster, but still having no chance to win the starting job until an injury opened the door. His rookie season was also a wash for a number of reasons, but preparing as QB2 during the offseason did him no favors.
Now in Year 2 and in a new offense, however, he has progressed through camp and each game of the preseason, improving with offensive coordinator Luke Getsy’s scheme. The Bears offense may as well have been riding a tricycle against the Kansas City Chiefs, moved up to training wheels at the Seattle Seahawks, and graduated to a bicycle against the Browns with the way Fields and offense performed.
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Getsy seemed to agree during his press conference earlier in the week on Tuesday.
“Like I mentioned before, I thought preseason game one, I was pleased with the process and the play calling into the huddle, the snap to the line of scrimmage, the motions, and the lack of penalties,” Getsy told reporters. “That carried over to preseason two and I thought he got even better in preseason three so I think that part of it we were all pleased with.”
Getsy also acknowledged that there was still room for improvements.
Fields is taking everything Getsy is throwing at him and making something happen with it. He looks quicker with his releases, he’s more confident when rolling out, and he simply looks more poised that he did last year. You can go back and see progressions during Trubisky’s preseason his rookie year as well, but unlike that situation, Fields won’t have to wait to build on his development.
Coming off his performance against the Browns, Fields already knows he’s the guy. There’s no one he’s competing with, no one breathing down his neck, and no one he has to wait behind for an undetermined amount of time like his rookie season last year.
Fields can take everything he just did against the Browns and build off of it in less than two weeks when the San Francisco 49ers visit Soldier Field for Week 1. For Trubisky in 2017, he had to wait a month and a half to make it into a game after his preseason. For all of his warts, don’t you think playing behind someone like Glennon could stunt a person’s confidence?
There’s something to be said about not only playing with confidence, but playing with confidence and knowing you have the opportunity to continue backing it up in future games that are just days away. Fields even admitted he knew Saturday’s game was going to be a good one.
“I kind of had a feeling beforehand, but sometimes you’re just feeling good going into the game, feeling confident,” Fields told reporters following the victory. “Hopefully we can go into every game feeling like that.”
He even said this game felt like a turning point going forward, though Getsy made sure to manage expectations as the two continue to develop together.
Preseason performances go out the window when the real games begin and Trubisky’s performance five years ago is a cautionary tale that success doesn’t always translate to the regular season.
When it comes to Fields, though, he has a chance to continue building on these progressions in a short time, knowing the Bears are his team. He picked a great time to have his best preseason game.