LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) — The Chicago Bears talked throughout the offseason about Justin Fields' improvement throwing the ball. It's time to see if he really is ready to take a step forward as a passer.
The Green Bay Packers figure to put Fields' passing to the test when they visit Chicago in Sunday's season opener. If they dare him to stay in the pocket rather than run, Fields insisted he's ready.
“That's fine with me,” he said Wednesday. “It is what it is. I’ve been there today. Like I said, we’ve looked at the defense and (will) react to it. So … whichever way we got to beat ’em, that’s the way we’re gonna do it.”
The NFL's oldest rivalry has been one-sided in recent decades. Chicago has lost eight in a row in the series and was 5-25 against Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers. Brett Favre was 22-10 against the Bears when he was with the Packers.
But it's a different era now.
Rodgers is out of the NFC North and getting ready to debut for the New York Jets. Jordan Love will be behind center for the Packers on Sunday. And in his third season, Fields will try to start showing he can be the quarterback the Bears need him to become.
Last year, the results were mixed.
Fields emerged as one of the NFL's most electrifying players because of his ability to break off huge runs. He rushed for 1,143 yards and just missed the single-season record for a quarterback of 1,206 by Baltimore's Lamar Jackson in his 2019 MVP season. But as a passer, he was near the bottom of the league.
Fields threw for 2,242 yards and 17 touchdowns while getting sacked 55 times, tying Denver's Russell Wilson for the most in the league. Against Green Bay, he was at his best and worst.
Fields completed seven passes for 70 yards — both season lows — in Week 2 at Lambeau Field. But he had one of his better games in Week 13 at Soldier Field, even if the result was a familiar one for Chicago.
Rodgers led three fourth-quarter scoring drives, and receiver Christian Watson took an end-around 46 yards for a touchdown in the closing minutes after Jaire Alexander intercepted Fields, propelling the Packers to a 28-19 victory.
The late interception aside, Fields completed 20 of 25 passes for a season-high 254 yards. He had only one other 200-yard passing game last season. Fields also ran for a 55-yard touchdown in that game.
“I think our team grew during that time," coach Matt Eberflus said. "I know the record didn’t show that. But I think if you watched both those games, there was a growth in there, there was an execution piece in there, there was a style. I know we ran the ball well the first time up there, but I certainly saw growth in between those two games, for sure.”
Fields' growth is a huge storyline for a team that finished with a league-worst 3-14 record last season.
The Bears went all in on him in the offseason, trading the No. 1 pick in the draft to Carolina for receiver DJ Moore and a package of picks, and making moves to upgrade the offensive line. Chicago drafted tackle Darnell Wright with the No. 10 overall pick, the first time the team grabbed a lineman in the first round since Kyle Long in 2013. The Bears also signed guard Nate Davis.
With all that and a second year in offensive coordinator Luke Getsy's system, Fields appears to have the support he needs to improve as a passer. If he does, the Bears would seem to have an easy decision when it comes to picking up its fifth-year option for 2025.
For now, teams will try to keep him in the pocket. It's up to Fields to make them pay.
“When you try to take away something, you open up something else,” Eberflus said. “You try to load the box to stop the run, you open up the receivers on the outside. You try to defend the pass, and play more split safety, you open up the run. ... But certainly with him, taking away that run game for him is something that people did last year and should open up different avenues for us.”
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Andrew Seligman, The Associated Press