Bears quarterback Justin Fields throws a pass against the Packers last year.
When it comes to the Packers, Justin Fields doesn’t want to look in the rear-view mirror.
“I’m not really looking back towards history,” the Bears quarterback said this week. “I’m looking toward now. … We’ve got a different team this year. Last year, that was last year — so it’s a different year.
“We don’t really care what happened in the past. That doesn’t affect what’s gonna happen on Sunday.”
It should inform how he plays, though — Fields knows the Packers better than any franchise other than his own.
When he takes the field for the latest installment of the NFL’s best rivalry Sunday, Fields will face the Packers for the fifth time in his career. That’s as many times as he’s played against the other two NFC North teams combined — he logged three games against the Lions and two against the Vikings in his first two seasons. The 49ers are the only other team he’s played more than once in his career, and those were one-offs: Chris Tabor coaching after Matt Nagy’s COVID-19 diagnosis and the two teams playing in monsoon conditions.
Roughly 1-in-6 passes Fields has thrown and passing yards he’s totaled as an NFL player have come against the Packers. After Sunday, a whopping 18 percent of all NFL games Fields has ever played will have been against the Bears’ rivals.
That makes the Packers more than just the most hated team in town. They’re a real-time measuring stick for Fields in a season where the franchise absolutely must find out whether he can be the franchise quarterback.
If he’s grown this offseason, it should be easy to draw a straight line between Sunday and his performance against the Packers in Week 13 last year.
Every single starter on the Packers defense was a member of their team last year. Their coordinator, Joe Barry, has been in charge of play-calling every time Fields has faced them.
Even though Fields has lost all four rivalry games, that experience — unprecedented in his career — has to count for something.
“I don’t know if it’s differentiating, but I think it’s more about the fact that he’s in Year 3 playing in the league, being with his teammates, having gone through a lot of experiences,” offensive coordinator Luke Getsy said before Thursday’s practice. “It obviously helps to know the opponent, who’s on the field, those players, their tendencies, what they’re good at, what they’re not good at, all that kinda stuff.
“That all helps, as a player, so your instincts are a little bit sharper.”
The Bears are taking advantage of that same idea on the other side of the ball. As they sort through what a Packers offense will look like with Jordan Love under center, they’ve leaned on Getsy, who spent seven years in Green Bay, for insight. They’d be fools not to.
“We’re not dumb-dumbs,” defensive coordinator Alan Williams said with a smile.
Fields having experience against the Packers’ defensive coordinator isn’t quite as important. Rather, Getsy pointed to the experience he and Fields gained in the quarterback’s second season — and their first together.
Asked to specify one thing he learned about Fields during training camp, Getsy pointed to the ease in which the quarterback has operated the offense.
“Just the comfortability of what’s going on around him now is way further along than it was,” he said. “Knowing not only what his particular assignment is but being able to direct traffic around him all that makes everybody else’s job a lot easier.”
Not that the Bears think they’ll be fully comfortable against the Packers. It’s Week 1, where surprises lurk around each corner.
The Bears spent training camp focusing on the fundamentals of their offense so they can deal with what coaches call “unscouted looks” — new personnel groupings, formations and plays that teams have been saving all offseason long.
“No one does anything in preseason that’s going to unveil anything to you,” Getsy said. “So you go into Game 1 with trust in your training. That’s truly what you have to do in this situation because they could do anything and they could change their style of play or whatever.
“New coaches come in, new players come in, and people change a little bit. And it may not be drastic, but there could be just subtle changes. And you want to make sure you’re prepared.”
The Bears spent all offseason trying to prepare Fields for the unknown. Sunday, they’ll see how he handles it — even if it’s against a familiar foe.