Who mentioned a last-place season couldn’t be any enjoyable?
Chicago Bears followers have discovered new achievement in shedding this season, with many unfazed by the crew’s 3-10 file and one other skid that has lasted greater than a month. All this was a part of the disclaimer after the organizational reboot in January, proper? An NFL rebuild typically requires acceptance of a complete teardown and the accompanying particles.
Plus, the Bears now have themselves an electrical, playmaking quarterback. We repeat: The Chicago freakin’ Bears now have themselves an electrical, playmaking quarterback.
The explosive emergence of Justin Fields since mid-October has generated an adrenaline rush round these components that’s both exhilarating and unfamiliar. Over his final seven begins, Fields rushed for 711 yards and 7 touchdowns, together with an NFL-record three scores of fifty yards or longer. (That’s a profession record, by the best way, for a quarterback. Fields achieved it in 29 days.)
Fields additionally has handed for 9 touchdowns since Week 6, was the NFC Offensive Participant of the Week in Week 9 and continues to deliver big-play juice to the offense each week.
This presents Chicago a license to dream about the place Fields can propel this franchise — as soon as he has a sturdier offensive line, a stronger receiving corps, a greater protection and a roster full of extra expertise and depth.
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So neglect that when the Bears return to motion Sunday at Soldier Discipline in opposition to the NFC-leading Philadelphia Eagles, they are going to be 55 days faraway from their final victory and determine to be a double-digit underdog at residence.
Don’t fear that within the 30 seasons since Mike Ditka was fired, the Bears now have 12 seasons with at the least 10 losses and solely 4 playoff victories.
Overlook that the present roster has dozens of holes that want filling in what shall be a demanding roster-replenishing cycle subsequent spring.
All of that may wait.
Optimism at all times feels significantly better than anxiousness. So who on planet Earth would select fear over hope?
After a Week 14 open date, the Bears return to Halas Corridor on Monday with 4 video games remaining, 4 extra weekends with loads of significance and leisure worth folded in. With that in thoughts, right here’s our viewing information of 10 issues to observe earlier than Bears gamers clear out their lockers on Jan. 9.
Justin Fields. Justin Fields. Justin Fields.
In the event you’re taking your eyes off Fields, you’re lacking the largest level of this season, which began with a quest to see if he may develop right into a difference-making franchise quarterback. 13 video games in, Fields’ playmaking brilliance has been plentiful, particularly for the reason that “mini-bye” that carried the Bears from a Thursday evening loss to the Washington Commanders in Week 6 to a Monday evening win over the New England Patriots 11 nights later.
A couple of shrewd schematic changes helped unlock Fields’ biggest presents and woke up the offense. In his final six begins, Fields accomplished 67.4% of his passes for 1,027 yards and 9 touchdowns with a 95.9 passer score. The Bears averaged 27.8 factors throughout that stretch and transformed 55.2% of their third-down alternatives, now rating sixth within the NFL in third-down effectivity.
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Moreover, with a team-best 905 speeding yards, Fields has been the engine of the league’s most efficient floor assault and appears sure to go over 1,000 yards within the subsequent couple of weeks.
For the season, Fields has produced 13 runs of at the least 15 yards and 27 completions of at the least 20 yards. That is all proof of progress and potential. Nobody ought to argue in any other case. Bears followers haven’t had a fireworks present like this to take pleasure in since … effectively, ever actually. Now there’s one other 4 weeks to take all of it in.
Fields threw for a season-high 254 yards in opposition to the Inexperienced Bay Packers in Week 13, simply the second time this season he has topped 200. He appeared comfy within the pocket and poised together with his resolution making. That was a step in the appropriate route, even with two late interceptions that helped seal the Bears’ sixth consecutive loss.
However the Bears proceed to personal the league’s least potent passing offense, averaging simply 140.6 yards — greater than 165 yards per recreation behind the NFL-leading Kansas Metropolis Chiefs and 56 yards per recreation exterior the highest 25.
Fields’ interception charge (4.0%) stays the worst among the many league’s 34 qualifying quarterbacks. His passer score (85.4) ranks twenty sixth, sandwiched between the Patriots’ Mac Jones (87.0) and the Commanders’ since-benched Carson Wentz (84.1).
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Two issues might be true concurrently. Fields is having a productive and inspiring season. And he nonetheless has a protracted, lengthy approach to go.
In his subsequent two video games, Fields will face a pair of big-boy defenses. The Eagles are the NFL chief with 15 interceptions to go along with 48 sacks. The Buffalo Payments, who will go to Soldier Discipline on Christmas Eve, have an AFC-best 22 takeaways whereas permitting solely 17 factors per recreation. Measuring-stick moments are forward.
Whereas we’re with reference to the Eagles and Payments, the profession ascents of quarterbacks Jalen Hurts and Josh Allen are value mentioning. Each got here into the league with excessive expectations — Hurts as a second-round decide in 2020, Allen as a top-10 choice in 2018. And each had been inconsistent early of their careers, leaving some doubt as to whether or not they may turn out to be difference-making franchise leaders.
Now each dual-threat quarterbacks are MVP candidates and the engines of Tremendous Bowl-contending groups. And each shall be visiting Soldier Discipline within the subsequent two weeks.
Hurts and Allen have made marked particular person enhancements since they broke into the league and have led their groups into the playoffs. Each even have benefited this season from having dynamic playmakers of their offense. Hurts has A.J. Brown and Devonta Smith to throw to, together with his prime two receivers having a mixed 131 catches, 1,995 yards and 15 touchdowns. Allen has spectacular chemistry with Stefon Diggs, who’s now as much as 94 catches, 1,239 yards and 10 touchdowns.
It could be good for the Bears to get Fields some weapons like that quickly. It additionally can be good if Fields can observe the profession climbs Hurts and Allen have made.
If the 2023 NFL draft had been held as we speak, the Bears would personal the No. 3 decide, positioned both to pick one of many largest stars of the draft class or to buy that choice in a doable commerce again that would web normal supervisor Ryan Poles a bounty of worthwhile draft capital. That is the much-celebrated comfort prize for the Bears being as unhealthy as they’re.
It appears unlikely the Bears would climb to the highest of the draft board between now and Jan. 8. The 1-11-1 Houston Texans have remaining video games in opposition to the Chiefs, Tennessee Titans, Jacksonville Jaguars and Indianapolis Colts and may be hard-pressed to win two extra instances than the Bears do.
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As for the likelihood the Bears may succeed their means out of a top-five decide with a win or two late within the season, the opposite bottom-tier groups to trace over the subsequent 4 weeks embrace the Denver Broncos, Los Angeles Rams, New Orleans Saints, Arizona Cardinals and Colts, all of whom have 4 victories or fewer.
Whereas we’re on the subject of the draft, it’s most likely value mentioning just a few of the elite prospects who may curiosity the Bears with their prime decide and the way you are able to do some informal advance scouting from the sofa.
Georgia defensive deal with Jalen Carter is an absolute monster, a 310-pound wrecking ball in the midst of the Bulldogs defensive position. Bears followers may get two probabilities to observe Carter play within the Faculty Soccer Playoff. Georgia will face Ohio State within the Peach Bowl on New Yr’s Eve in Atlanta. If the Bulldogs win, they might face both Michigan or TCU within the nationwide title recreation Jan. 9.
TCU standout Quentin Johnston might be the primary receiver drafted in April. He’s 6-foot-4 and 215 kilos with explosive athleticism and has 53 catches, 903 yards and 5 touchdowns in 12 video games this season. Johnston’s Horned Frogs will play their nationwide semifinal in opposition to Michigan within the Fiesta Bowl on Dec. 31.
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Alabama edge rusher Will Anderson is a two-time winner of the Bronko Nagurski Award because the nation’s finest defensive participant and can play his last school recreation in opposition to Kansas State within the Sugar Bowl on Dec. 31.
Clemson’s Bryan Bresee is one other quick-twitch defensive position prospect who shall be enjoying within the Orange Bowl on Dec. 30 in opposition to Tennessee.
There are many extra intriguing draft prospects to observe throughout the 43-game bowl schedule, which begins Friday morning with the Bahamas Bowl and runs by way of the Rose Bowl on Jan. 2. Poles and his expertise analysis crew ought to keep busy.
The Bears made one in every of their largest acquisitions for the 2023 season in November when Poles traded his second-round decide to the Pittsburgh Steelers to deliver Claypool to Halas Corridor.
That deal was a little bit of a preemptive strike within the bid so as to add weapons round Fields within the passing recreation. Poles acknowledged his evaluation of the 2023 free-agency class at huge receiver left him a bit underwhelmed and sparked the midseason deal.
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In 4 video games since becoming a member of the Bears, Claypool has 12 catches and 111 yards, nonetheless studying the playbook and assimilating into his evolving position within the offense. As of now, the Bears’ second-round decide can be the No. 34 choice. That’s an costly funding in Claypool, whose rookie contract runs by way of March 2024.
It’s unsure what the long-term return shall be. However at a minimal, over the ultimate 4 video games this season, you’d wish to see playmaking flashes from Claypool and enhancing timing and chemistry with Fields.
It’s a brand new format this 12 months. On a trial foundation, the standard Professional Bowl recreation shall be changed by a trio of flag soccer video games on Feb. 5 in Las Vegas.
Throughout an NFL Community particular at 7 p.m. Saturday, 88 gamers shall be chosen as regular to the NFC and AFC rosters. Fields presents the Bears’ finest hope of being represented. The Professional Bowl rosters will function three quarterbacks from every convention.
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Within the NFC, Hurts is a lock to make his first Professional Bowl. The Seattle Seahawks’ Geno Smith additionally looks as if a great wager to be invited. That would depart one opening that might be up for grabs amongst Fields, Tom Brady, Kirk Cousins and Aaron Rodgers. And what occurs if, say, Hurts is making ready for the Tremendous Bowl and might’t attend? Or one other quarterback within the operating decides to not take part?
Mitch Trubisky was the final Bears quarterback to make the Professional Bowl, going as an alternate in 2018. Jim McMahon — means again in 1985 — was the final Bears quarterback to be named to the preliminary roster.
Professional Bowl rosters are decided by votes from followers, gamers and coaches, with every faction carrying equal weight. As of final week, Fields was not among the many prime 10 quarterback vote getters from followers.
By means of 13 video games, the Bears are averaging a league-best 189.2 speeding yards, on tempo to set a single-season franchise file with 3,216. Solely 4 groups within the Tremendous Bowl period have topped 3,000 speeding yards in a season. The 2019 Baltimore Ravens, led by MVP Lamar Jackson, set a league file with 3,296 yards in a 16-game season.
The 1978 Patriots (3,165 yards in 16 video games), 1973 Payments (3,088 in 14 video games) and 2020 Ravens (3,071 in 16 video games) are the one different members of the three,000-yard membership.
Fields has rushed for at the least 70 yards in six of his final seven begins and set an NFL regular-season file for a quarterback with 178 in opposition to the Dolphins in Week 9. David Montgomery (641 yards, 4 touchdowns) has remained regular.
The Bears additionally may get operating again Khalil Herbert again from injured reserve earlier than the season ends. Herbert, who has been out with a hip damage, shall be eligible to return to follow Dec. 20.
As many followers fast-forward to their 2023 mock drafts and dream of a franchise-changing class, it’s value keeping track of Poles’ first draft class as GM. How that group finishes the 2022 season may shorten the listing of offseason wants.
Can defensive backs Jaquan Brisker and Kyler Gordon return from concussions and put collectively a powerful end? Will huge receiver Velus Jones earn extra alternatives on offense and make the most of them? What’s going to left deal with Braxton Jones’ efficiency overview appear to be at 12 months’s finish?
Can defensive finish Dominique Robinson speed up his progress to turn out to be a extra impactful playmaker? Does security Elijah Hicks have potential to be a defensive contributor or is he higher used primarily on particular groups? Will punter Trent Gill be capable of deal with the winter climate at Soldier Discipline?
Oh, and don’t neglect about undrafted rookie linebacker Jack Sanborn, who has been probably the most nice surprises of the season and continues to state a case that he deserves to retain a beginning position past this 12 months.
It won’t matter to all people, however Fields and the Bears offense have a hump to recover from in terms of placing collectively game-winning drives within the last minutes of shut video games.
In every of Fields’ final 4 begins, the Bears had the ball with lower than six minutes remaining with an opportunity to tie or take the lead. Every time they failed to take action and misplaced.
In Fields’ final two begins, his last move was a defeat-sealing interception, bringing his season complete to 6 fourth-quarter picks.
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Can Fields finally mature into a clutch playmaking quarterback beneath late-game strain, particularly as soon as he will get an upgraded supporting forged? In fact he can. However there’s no hurt in beginning to construct that library of successful experiences now.
Each achievement Fields and the offense enjoys turns into gasoline for the idea tank that the Bears might want to turn out to be a playoff contender.
At a minimal, Bears coaches and gamers really feel just like the expertise they’ve gained this season in pressure-packed conditions is effective to the training course of. Sooner or later, although, everybody at Halas Corridor would like to reap the earnings of a victory.
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