LAS VEGAS – Time and again, Justin Fields found himself on the ground Sunday. Even through two separate minor injury scares, Fields bounded back into the huddle again and again.
His teammates and his coaches noticed that.
“That son of a buck is tough,” Bears coach Matt Nagy said.
Nobody doubted that after seeing Fields battle through a rib injury in the College Football Playoff last season at Ohio State. There were similar vibes early in Sunday’s 20-9 victory over the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium.
On the Bears’ second offensive possession of the game, Fields ran for the sticks on third down, twisted his body and took a hit to his side. He fell short of the first down and yielded the floor to the punt team. On the sideline, team trainers examined Fields’ rib cage area. Fields leaned over a garbage can as if he might throw up. Andy Dalton even began, briefly, to warm up.
But when the offense went back onto the field, Fields was at the helm.
“I got the wind knocked out of me, so that made the hit worse, so I couldn’t really breathe, to be honest with you,” Fields said. “So I was good after a while.”
Later in the game, on another scramble, Fields hyperextended his left knee and struggled to pick himself up off the field. He spent a few minutes in the injury tent, and this time Dalton actually did come into the game.
Once again, Fields didn’t miss much time. He was back out there within minutes.
“He’s a fighter,” tight end Jesper Horsted said. “You saw some of those huge hits. Ideally, you want to eliminate those. But it says a lot about your quarterback when he wants to come back and finish the game off, even tough I’m sure he’s battling through some stuff.”
This Bears team has battled through some stuff as well. The lows of two weeks ago, after that ugly loss to the Cleveland Browns, feel a bit more distant now that they’re 3-2.
The Bears’ offense has made some obvious adjustments. The game plan Sunday wasn’t pretty, and it wasn’t what Bears fans have become accustomed to under Nagy. With offensive coordinator Bill Lazor as play-caller over the past two games, the Bears have adjusted their attack based on the weapons they have available.
That has meant more two- and three-tight end sets, a stronger commitment to the run game, a less dazzling passing attack – and in two weeks it has equaled two wins.
Sunday’s win won’t go down as a highlight reel game for Fields. That’s not to say there weren’t great plays. Threading the needle to find Darnell Mooney on a key third down and connecting with Horsted for a touchdown pass through a tight window were two that come to mind.
The pass to Mooney, especially, showed as much resiliency as either of Fields’ injury scares. It came in the fourth quarter after the Raiders had cut the lead to one score. The Bears needed first downs and needed to eat up clock.
“That’s just a timing throw,” Fields said. “We practiced that play throughout the week. I saw [the defenders] were back and were kind of playing the sticks on that. So with that look, just trying to get the first down, something to keep the drive going.”
The offense overall wasn’t pretty. Fields was 12-for-20 passing for 111 yards and a touchdown. Combined with a stellar effort from the defense, it was good enough for a victory.
If that’s what it takes to win games, the Bears will take it.
Fields hasn’t always been dealt the best hand. In Week 2, he was thrown in on short notice when Andy Dalton injured his knee. He was sacked nine times in his first career start in Cleveland. The current game plan doesn’t utilize his running abilities as much as it could, but Fields has adapted to what the team needs.
“That’s a big part of this,” Nagy said. “He’s been able to grow. I think that’s what we want to see is constant improvement, being able to play smart.”
His resiliency doesn’t go unnoticed either.
“When I was younger, my dad always told me if I could get up and walk off the field, do it,” Fields said. “So that’s kind of why I don’t like staying down long.”