Bears' Justin Fields shows improvement by 'staying calm in the pocket'

Justin Fields said things are slowing down for him, and it helps to have a clean pocket. AP Photo/Abbie Parr

MINNEAPOLIS -- Chicago Bears offensive coordinator Luke Getsy raised some eyebrows last week when he said quarterback Justin Fields didn't have a bad first month, despite every significant stat suggesting otherwise.

Getsy pointed out that he saw Fields improving every week, and on Sunday, the stats supported his perspective. Fields set personal highs with a 71.4% completion percentage and 118.8 passer rating.

It wasn’t enough to lead the Bears to victory, as a late turnover by wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette helped seal the Minnesota Vikings' 29-22 victory.

After the Bears fell in a 21-3 hole in the second quarter, Fields turned it on in the second half, completing 12 of 13 passes for 135 yards and a touchdown.

Fields was poised in the pocket in the second half, decisive with his throws, quieting the criticism he's faced -- at least for the moment -- for leaving receivers open and making the wrong call.

"I think when I first got here, you see big guys flying around, D-linemen going fast," said the second-year pro. "You just think you have to speed everything up, but I'm just starting to figure out you got to play within your own rhythm, and the way you know how to play and staying calm in the pocket."

Fields made no big mistakes and didn't turn the ball over.

First-year coach Matt Eberflus said it was one of the best performances of the quarterback's career.

With 2 minutes, 26 seconds to play after Minnesota took the 29-22 lead, Fields hit Smith-Marsette for a 15-yard gain near midfield. Had it not been for Smith-Marsette trying to get an extra couple of yards instead of getting out of bounds, a decision that led to a lost fumble and that the receiver called "selfish," Chicago could be reflecting on Fields having led a successful two-minute drive on the road instead of showing improvement in a loss.

"I think we took a step forward for sure," Fields said. "Felt like the protection was better today. I think we definitely handled their blitz better than last week, so I felt like we took a step forward in that.

"Just overall proud of everybody and the way they fought. We were down 21-3. A lot of teams in this league would've laid down and stopped playing, but I'm proud of our guys and the way they fought."

Smith-Marsette's fumble wasn't the only mistake Chicago will reflect on. Fields had big gains nullified by costly errors, including a 52-yard TD scamper that was called back by an illegal block in the back, and there were a handful of dropped passes. But inside those missed opportunities, the Bears are still able to see progress from their young quarterback, who was efficient with better pass protection.

"It was cleaner," Eberflus said of the pocket. "He had time to deliver. He can see down the field without being in a rush and ride the pocket like we talked about last week, so that's definitely an encouraging thing to see."

Like his OC, Fields was encouraged at the progress this offense is making. So were his teammates.

"As an overall, I feel like everybody in the whole offense is elevating right now, especially in the passing game," right guard Teven Jenkins said. "We need that, because it'll open up the running game, and it'll give us more balanced defenses to go against instead of people loading the box, challenging us."

There's still plenty to clean up, but this loss gives Chicago (2-3) hope its quarterback could be entering a new phase of his development. And it probably doesn't hurt that their next opponent is the 1-4 Washington Commanders, who have given up 11 passing TDs, tied for second worst in the NFL. And opposing QBs average a 103.7 rating against Washington, which is sixth worst in the league.