All losses in the NFL are frustrating, but they're also not all built the same. The Chicago Bears blew a 12-point lead in four minutes of game clock, eventually losing 31-26 to the rival Detroit Lions, falling to a 3-8 record on the season. While there’s no great excuse to give up 17 points in such a short manner, the Bears have goals that are a bit bigger than this season, and they collected a major datapoint on the short- and long-term future with the return of Justin Fields from a thumb injury on Sunday.
Fields is one of the most physically talented quarterbacks in the league with streaks of inconsistency that have made his future in Chicago cloudy, but his performance against the Lions was a strong step toward getting back on the right track as an NFL starting quarterback.
Fields brought back an element of explosiveness that had been missing in the four games that backup quarterback Tyson Bagent started. For an undrafted rookie, Bagent did a good enough job to allow the Bears to win two of the four games he started, but he’s not the future of the franchise. Fields’ physical skills alone will have teams pondering what’s possible if he can start to become a more consistent player.
He put together remarkable highlights with his arm and his legs against the Lions, leading six scoring drives, throwing 1 touchdown and adding 104 yards on the ground. There are only a handful of quarterbacks in the league capable of producing like that in a game. Even though Fields was strip-sacked into a safety at the end of the game to ice it, the Bears wouldn’t have been in a position to win without his efforts or confident play.
"I’m gonna be real with y’all," Fields said afterward. "We should’ve won the game. It just comes down to finishing and executing at the end of the game."
Outside of Fields, the other Bears rushers combined for 79 yards on 28 carries. Fields beat that production by himself. That’s where his value, and the value of quarterbacks who happen to be elite athletes, can really shine. Fields can generate his own offense on the ground and when his dropbacks are efficient as well, it’s easy to see why some people are still excited about his prospects in the league.
A game like this is important even if the Bears decide not to keep him and flip him to another team in the offseason. They own the Carolina Panthers’ first-round draft pick in 2024, which is currently slated as the first pick in the draft, according to Tankathon. The Bears’ original pick is sitting at fourth overall right now, giving them a treasure chest of draft capital to play around with. If Fields proves valuable enough that another team is willing to pay up big for him, the Bears can use those assets to help out their new quarterback, whether it be USC’s Caleb Williams or North Carolina’s Drake Maye.
This current Bears regime didn’t draft Fields, so they may not feel as inclined to keep him, but the best outcome of this season for the Bears is that Fields proves himself worthy enough to return as the starting quarterback in 2024. Then they can get creative with their picks at the top of the draft, either using them to trade down and collect more assets or take two bona fide prospects. Either way, the Bears have a lot of control over their future and the potential to get better in a hurry, they just need to spend these final six games figuring out how Fields fits into the organizational equation.
Success doesn’t happen overnight, especially for teams that are at the start of a multiyear rebuild, but Fields playing well is only a positive for the Bears. They’ll get a grasp on exactly where Fields is in his development to close the year. Chicago will play the Vikings, Lions, Browns, Cardinals, Falcons and Packers to close the season. The first three teams on that list can be headaches to play offense against while there’s a bit of relief on the backend.
Fields is playing for his NFL future over the next month and a half. His performance against the Lions showed that he’s capable of postive things other quarterbacks are not. If he maintains this level of play against some of the tougher teams, the Bears will have a difficult decision to make at the end of the season.