Bears quarterback Justin Fields looks to pass Sunday against the Lions.
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The lasting image of Justin Fields’ return will be his fumble that sealed the Lions’ 31-26 win Sunday. It spoiled a solid first step in his seven-game closing argument to try to become the Bears’ quarterback of the future next year.
Upon further review, here’s a look at Fields’ best throw, his near-miss and what he could have done different on the fumble:
The deep shot
When the Bears needed completions in other wins this season, they’ve thrown to standouts DJ Moore (against the Commanders) and Darnell Mooney (against the Panthers). So why, on third-and-9 from their own 26 with 2:51 to play, did the Bears take a 51-yard shot downfield — and why was the ball thrown to Tyler Scott, a rookie with 10 catches?
Coach Matt Eberflus said Fields was simply making the proper read.
Fields took a shotgun snap and looked to Moore, who ran ran an over route. The Lions were ready for it — free safety Tracy Walker was in robber coverage, pushing forward to cut off the middle intermediate route. Fields knew that coverage would leave Scott with one man to beat deep.
Split left, Scott got a free release off cornerback Cam Sutton, took a jab step outside and sprinted up the field just inside the numbers. Fields heaved the ball deep. Scott slowed down to look for the ball near the 42. By the time Fields’ ball landed incomplete at the 27, Scott was a half-step behind.
“I’m running, thinking of all my coaching points, looking up and not back at the ball. …” Scott said. “And Justin threw a great ball. A great ball. Looking up at it, I just kind of misjudged it, I guess.”
Fields said Scott got off balance when he stutter stepped to look up for the ball.
“That’s what caused him to kind of lose his speed,” he said.
With about 1:30 left in the first quarter, Fields overthrew a 44-yard deep shot into the end zone to Moore on a post route.
“I was like, ‘I’m fast,’ but I don’t know …” Moore said. “’Let’s take some [zip] off of that.’”
The Bears knew they’d try again — Walker, they knew, got “nosey” on deep crossing routes, inching too close to the line of scrimmage. They took a shot from the same part of the field — the Lions’ 39 — about 10 minutes into the second half. Fields climbed the pocket and ripped a throw to Moore, who was a step ahead of cornerback Jerry Jacobs in the end zone.
“I told him I wasn’t going to miss him on it again if we came back to it,” Fields said.
It was Fields’ best throw of the game.
“Where I do think he did a good job was, he made connections down the field and had his eyes down the field before he crossed the line,” Eberflus said.
With 29 seconds left and with Fields needing about 40 yards to put the Bears into game-tying field goal range, Lions defensive end Aidan Hutchinson rushed over Darnell Wright’s right shoulder. Hutchinson turned the corner at the 19 and punched at the ball away from Fields with his left hand. The ball rolled to the 2 and was kicked by Wright into the end zone for a safety.
“Just beat the tackle,” Hutchinson said. “Fields was sitting there, didn’t see me. And it all happened really fast.”
Eberflus said he didn’t blame Fields, who needed to hold the ball to try to make a play downfield. Fields, who had glanced left to check down to running back Roschon Johnson, said he could have stepped forward — the way he did on the Moore touchdown — to make Hutchinson’s angle more difficult.
“I know Darnell was beating himself up after the game and he’s going to learn from that … ,” Fields said. “But to help him out, I’ve got to step into the pocket.”