Justin Fields’ growing comfort level shows in Bears defeat
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) — Justin Fields and the Chicago Bears’ passing game carried the offense Sunday for the first time this season in a 29-22 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
Now, if the Bears (2-3) can only find ways to finish games, they could prevent a three-game losing streak Thursday night when they host the Washington Commanders (1-4).
Fields went 15 of 21 (71.4%) for a career-best completion percentage and also had a career-best passer rating of 118.8 against Minnesota, while throwing for a season-high 208 yards.
“You can feel Justin comfortable where he is right now in the offense,” coach Matt Eberflus said on Monday. “He’s taking command. I can see him in practice, and I’ve seen in the last couple weeks, him taking control of route depths and talking to receivers.”
Fields is in his second offense in two NFL seasons and agrees with the assessment of his comfort.
“I would say so,” he said. “I mean, it’s just like just trying to stay calm. I think when I first got here, you’d see big guys flying around, D-linemen going fast. Like, you just think you have to speed everything up.
“I’m just starting to figure out you just try to play within your own rhythm, the way you know how to play and stay calm in the pocket.”
Bears receivers have been inconsistent, but now Fields’ top two targets, wide receiver Darnell Mooney and tight end Cole Kmet, are making bigger impacts.
Mooney made a leaping one-handed grab of 39 yards Sunday, while Kmet had a season-high four catches for 45 yards. Fields was sacked just twice after being sacked 16 times in the first four games.
“The guys are growing,” Eberflus said. “The players are getting used to the scheme. The timing’s getting better, the rhythm’s getting better.
“Yesterday the protection was good and the protection’s been good at times and it was better yesterday. The guys are just getting used to it.”
Special Teams. Bears rookie Dominique Robinson blocked a field goal and Bears kicker Cairo Santos made field goals of 50, 51 and 47 yards. About the only thing they couldn’t do against Minnesota was recover a surprise onside kick in the second half during their comeback.
The pass defense. For the first time, the Bears pass defense struggled greatly without injured cornerback Jaylon Johnson (quad) on the field. Three rookies in the secondary over two games hadn’t been a problem, but the Vikings capitalized against the secondary that included undrafted rookie cornerback Jaylon Jones, rookie safety Jaquan Brisker and rookie cornerback Kyler Gordon.
Wide receiver Justin Jefferson had 10 catches in the first half and 12 for 154 yards for the game while quarterback Kirk Cousins (32 of 41, 296 yards) picked the Bears apart throughout the first half and then on the final scoring drive. The Vikings converted 12 of 15 third downs for the game.
Running back David Montgomery, but not as a runner.
In a game when the Bears starter returned from a week away with an ankle injury, he was held to only 20 yards rushing. However, he was extensively involved in the passing game for the first time this year as a blocker and receiver with four catches for 62 yards. He took one short toss for 30 yards.
“I can’t control what people see, but the passing game is really getting on a roll, so it can be really, really good,” Montgomery said. “To have that balance is good. It helps in the run game, and the run game helps the pass game.
“It helps in all facets of the game. You’ve got to be able to do both.”
Wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette. The backup, who was cut by Minnesota and signed just before the season in Chicago, had his first significant playing time in the offense Sunday and had the ball stolen away from behind by Cameron Dantzler at the Vikings 39 on the final Bears’ drive to decide the game.
Smith-Marsette also got flagged for an illegal block from behind on a 52-yard Fields scramble, negating a touchdown.
Johnson (quad injury) missed his third straight game but ran in warmups before the game and was running at Halas Hall on Monday. Eberflus said he’s hopeful the starting Bears right cornerback can return Thursday.
2 — The number of touchdowns the Bears had on two trips inside the red zone. They worked at this area of the field extensively in practice after going 0 for 3 there last week.
The Bears host the Commanders at 8:15 p.m. ET Thursday.
More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL