'He wants this to be his city:' Fields built to lead Bears forward originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Bears will have plenty of time to evaluate Justin Fields' second NFL season. Right now, they are focused on Sunday's season finale against the Minnesota Vikings, which Fields will not play in after being ruled out with a strained hip.
There are some incontrovertible truths when it comes to the 23-year-old's second season with the Bears. He proved to be a dynamic playmaker with his legs. When out in the open field, there's arguably no one more exciting with the ball in their hands than Fields. He made strides as a passer but still has a lot of work to do to become a franchise guy who can consistently beat teams with his arm from the pocket.
During this season, there were several moments where Fields showed impressive growth as a passer. Think about the game against the Green Bay Packers in Week 13. The pocket movement, decision-making, and accuracy were worlds better than the guy who stepped on the field against that same team in Week 2.
The Bears know he is still growing but believe he is "on the path" to becoming the passer and quarterback they hope can lead them to a Super Bowl.
While the Bears will need time to properly reflect on Fields' season before determining the next steps in his development, there were clear areas of growth that everyone from head coach Matt Eberflus to quarterback coach Andrew Janocko identified as a top reason for excitement moving forward.
Leadership. Ownership. Drive to be great.
"He wants this to be his franchise. He wants this to be his city," Janocko said of Fields on Thursday. "Just the way he works. Spend five minutes with the kid, and you know it. He’s a dude. He’s a dog. He’s an alpha. Spend a little bit of time with him, you know he wants to be it."
Taking ownership of the offense and the team allows Fields to lead by example. Janocko called him a "thumb pointer," someone who always enters the building with a list of things he either must work on or didn't do well in the previous game.
It draws his teammates to him because they see the work he puts in and understand how badly he wants to help turn the franchise around.
“Competitor," wide receiver Chase Claypool said of Fields. "He’s one of those guys that hates losing just as much as I do. We see common ground on that. It’s good to know there’s a guy throwing you the ball who wants to win just as bad as you do.”
Fields' second season was encouraging. The momentum is surely headed in the right direction. But there were speed bumps early, and it ended with a 75-yard performance in a 41-10 blowout loss to the Lions. The Bears' passing offense ranked dead last in the NFL. Fields currently ranks 26th in pass attempts and 25th in yards with one week remaining.
Part of that falls on him and part of it falls on the supporting cast the Bears surrounded him with.
The offensive line, which rotated bodies throughout, allowed Fields to be pressured on 45 percent of his dropbacks, per Pro Football Focus. Fields sometimes holds the ball too long, but there were countless times when he was running for his life before really getting a chance to look downfield.
His receiving corps, outside of Darnell Mooney and Claypool, was a host of veterans fighting to keep a foothold in the NFL. There were no difference-makers on the outside.
How Fields handled imperfect circumstances and rose above them at times certainly stuck with Eberflus.
"I’m very impressed with his resiliency and his grit and how he fights, how he works," Eberflus said Friday. "He really is able to take a great play and also a play that wasn’t to good and move to the next one. That’s a great quality to have as a leader."
That leadership was on display throughout what looks like a 3-14 season. But one moment, in particular, sticks out as the time when Fields started "coming out of his shell," as Eberflus put it.
On Oct. 6, the Bears hosted the Washington Commanders on "Thursday Night Football." Trailing by five, Fields drove the Bears down inside the 5-yard line and tossed a perfect pass to Mooney on fourth-and-goal for the win. Mooney lost the ball in the stadium lights, bobbled it and came down at the inch line with possession.
After the loss, Fields showed frustration but also the determination to get things headed in the right direction.
"Just we always get told that we're almost there, we're almost there," Fields said after nearly an hour in the locker room talking through the play with Mooney. "Like me personally, I'm tired of being almost there. Tired of being just this close. Feel like I've been hearing it for so long now."
The next time Fields and the Bears took the field, they housed the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium. Fields followed that up by scoring 29 against a Super Bowl-caliber Dallas Cowboys defense and then rushing for an NFL record 178 yards against the Miami Dolphins.
"He is an amazing athlete," Eberflus said. "He really is. He can really lead this team. He’s done that. He’s certainly developing. We know that. He’s going to continue to develop as we go.”
Fields' season didn't end the way he wanted. Janocko said the second-year quarterback was "peeved" at the decision to rule him out for the season finale against the Vikings.
That's who Fields is. He's a fighter. Win, lose, or draw, he wants to be on the field trying to make good on his words after the Bears' Week 13 loss to the Packers.
"The wins are going to start coming," Fields said. "I just can't wait until they start coming. They are going to start rolling in here soon."
The Bears believe Fields is the guy to make that happen. But that will have to wait until next year.
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