True or false: QB Justin Fields’ performance Sunday gives Chicago Bears GM Ryan Poles reason to stick with him in 2024

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Fresh off a convincing 28-13 upset of the first-place Detroit Lions, the Chicago Bears are suddenly pursuing something that seemed unattainable 10 weeks ago. December relevance.

No, the Bears haven’t nudged their way into the “in the hunt” column of all the playoff graphics yet. They are still 5-8, in last place in the NFC North and behind 11 other teams in the conference as the regular season enters the home stretch.

But who knows? A third consecutive victory next weekend in Cleveland could reawaken the wildest of playoff fantasies for the Bears and their fans. Sunday’s victory wasn’t just encouraging. It was thoroughly convincing. The Bears outscored the Lions 18-0 after halftime, made the big plays when they needed them most and then sealed the deal in the late stages of the fourth quarter.

The quest to build on this newfound momentum and confidence will continue in Week 15. To set the stage, Tribune writers Colleen Kane and Dan Wiederer survey the scene at Halas Hall and address four key topics in “true or false” format.

True or false? It’s OK for Bears players to be talking about a possible playoff push.

Kane: True. I mean, I don’t really think I can govern what the players should be talking about when it comes to goals, especially given all the losses they’ve endured over the last two years. If their surge of three wins in four games gives them motivation to see if they can make the playoffs, if it convinces them they have something to play for over the final four games, why not?

But honestly, I didn’t get the feeling after the game that many players were thinking too grandly about a two-game winning streak. They know there’s a long way to go for this team. I liked center Lucas Patrick’s answer about it Monday, saying he thinks the players’ focus is solely on the 8-5 Cleveland Browns, who just beat the Jacksonville Jaguars behind apparently-not-yet-retired quarterback Joe Flacco.

“The awesome part about the NFL is it doesn’t allow you to do that,” Patrick said. “This is a really good defense we’re about to go up against. Their offense just became pretty explosive with the quarterback addition they had. We’ve got to go into a different environment and play and win a game, so we’re completely locked in right now on this week. Because as soon as you start talking about Week 16, 17, what that might look like, what divisional round, wild card, is when you start metaphorically putting the cart in front of the horse, and that’s when you really don’t pull in the same direction.”

Wiederer: I’ll see your Lucas Patrick insight and raise you with wisdom from Cole Kmet, who also struck the proper balance between optimism and grounded focus after Sunday’s win. While Kmet acknowledged the Bears’ upset of Detroit felt like the biggest win of the past two seasons, he also wasn’t looking to distribute party poppers around Halas Hall.

“If you’re just being real about it, it means nothing if you don’t continue on with this (momentum),” Kmet said. “This is one down and there’s four more of these to go. We are (already) in playoff mode in a sense. And this doesn’t mean anything if we lose out or anything. It just doesn’t. So you take this for what it is. And now we have to move on to next week.”

Kmet again emphasized that the Bears’ push to close the regular season with a six-game winning streak was need-based, the only way they could realistically reach the postseason and give this surge of progress maximum meaning.

“We have been looking better,” Kmet said. “And I do believe in that. You see that on tape. But the results have to come with that. This is a results-based league.”


True or false? Justin Fields’ performance against the Lions gives general manager Ryan Poles a justifiable reason to stick with him as the team’s quarterback for 2024 and beyond.

Wiederer: True. Oh. And also false. That’s right, I’m going fence-straddling here, if only to illuminate just how complex and difficult this QB decision is going to be for Poles in the coming months. Fields was, at times, brilliant Sunday, a tough-minded leader with infectious confidence and special playmaking ability. He helped propel the Bears to a convincing upset of the first-place team in their division. The 38-yard free play TD pass to DJ Moore was equal parts lucky and clutch. (More on that shortly.) And Fields made at least a half-dozen other plays Sunday where he torched the Lions with either his scrambling explosiveness or passing prowess. Most significantly, he didn’t turn the ball over and has now thrown only one interception in his past five starts.

Yet with all those positives to build on, Fields still has too many moments where it’s easy to worry about his overall pocket presence and his internal clock and his hesitance to throw into tight windows. As a passer, he was shaky on third downs Sunday and inside the red zone. He held the ball for 6.3 seconds on one 9-yard sack in the first half and for 8.1 seconds on another play where center Lucas Patrick was eventually called for holding. Fields was given a pass by the officiating crew on what should have been an intentional grounding violation one snap before the TD pass to Moore. He airmailed a wide-open Moore on a possible 30-yard gain over the middle.

Poles must continually ask himself whether Fields can become the engine of multiple championship runs and not just be a solid starter the Bears can win with. Sunday’s performance offered a lot to dissect and ended with a meaningful victory. But through a big-picture lens, it may not have altered the evaluation significantly.

Kane: And it all becomes more complex when you consider the Carolina Panthers lost again Sunday to drop to 1-12, and the New England Patriots won in Week 14 to improve to 3-10. With four games to go, the Panthers look like they’re stumbling toward the No. 1 draft pick, which would go to the Bears thanks to Poles’ trade of the 2023 top pick.

I do believe Fields has made strides this season. That stat you throw out of one interception in the last five starts is huge, though there were three fumbles in that stretch too. He has come through in the clutch, as has been on the checklist. He has had moments where his pocket presence is better, as well as keeping his eyes downfield to pass while on the move. And he still has that jaw-dropping playmaking ability, like he showed in a first-quarter third-and-8 play from the Bears 11. It twice looked like Lions defenders were going to take Fields down near the goal line, and he escaped their grasp for a 19-yard gain.

But what if the Bears can have their pick of USC quarterback Caleb Williams or North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye? Has Poles seen enough positives from Fields to know that he is the better option over developing one of those two? Or is there enough to worry about in Fields’ game after nearly three seasons to go for the total reset on offense?

I don’t envy Poles’ decision because I honestly don’t know. But we all do know something about quarterback-choice regret in Chicago.

True or false? Montez Sweat is having a Khalil Mack-like effect in his introduction to the Bears defense.

Kane: False. (But also kind of true, if we’re fence-straddling here.) Sweat’s impact on the Bears defense has been undeniable. He has 3 1/2 sacks and 10 quarterback hits in five games with the Bears and combined with his stats from Washington has reached 10 sacks in a season for the first time in his career.

He was all over the Lions in the second half Sunday as he totaled five tackles, a sack, four quarterback hits and a pass defended for the game. Plus coach Matt Eberflus and Sweat’s teammates have raved about what his presence does for them as the defense has totaled 10 takeaways (plus a special teams takeaway) in the last three games.

I just don’t know if you can call it Mack-like yet. Go back and look at Mack’s first four games with the Bears. He had an interception, four forced fumbles and five sacks in the first four games of 2018. He put together an All-Pro season for a 12-4 playoff team that year — though it should be noted that team had some other monster players on it, including Akiem Hicks.

Sweat is looking like one of the more exciting things to happen to this Bears team in a while. But the bar Mack set, given his ability to make game-changing plays, was pretty high.

Wiederer: Right. Having lived the start of the Mack era, we are qualified to remind people that it was like watching 50 barrels of TNT ignite for a defense that became the best in the NFL that season on a team that won an NFC North championship. I still remember standing in the visitor’s locker room in Arizona after Mack’s strip-sack of Sam Bradford helped the Bears steal a 16-14 win over the Cardinals and hearing Prince Amukamara compare him to LeBron James. Then, not five minutes later in a different pocket of the same locker room, Danny Trevathan dropped the M.J. comparison. Especially early on in Mack’s stay here, there was a wow factor for everyone he was around.

This is not that. At least not yet. But that also should not diminish the significance of the energy and belief Sweat is supplying the Bears at a time when they need both. When the Bears traded away a second-round pick to land Sweat last month and then guaranteed him more than $62 million on a four-year, $98 million extension, I expressed my want to see Sweat make his presence felt in every quarter of every game while also providing undeniable evidence that he is elevating the defense as a whole. All of that is currently happening. It’s been fun to watch. And for Sweat, who is signed with the Bears through the 2027 season, it’s just the beginning.

True or false? The free play TD pass from Fields to Moore is the most significant play in the Bears’ season to date.

Wiederer: True. I’m all in. True. True. True. Normally, I hate exaggerated prisoner-of-the-moment reactions. But in this case, it’s an easy argument to make. That free play touchdown was the biggest momentum-shifting play in the Bears’ most meaningful victory in years. It was the kind of play the Bears have so often been on the wrong end of in close games against quality opponents. It was an example of a moment where the Bears not only took advantage of an opponent’s mistake but cashed it in in the biggest way possible. It was an adrenalizing moment on a day when the Bears looked every bit like an on-the-rise playoff contender while the Lions appeared to be a flawed and mistake-prone also-ran.

That play helped the Bears win their second consecutive game overall and their second consecutive inside the NFC North. It gave life inside the locker room to the dream that the team can emerge late in the year as a surprise wild-card contender. It was the play inside a game full of big plays in a big home win that has the Bears and many of their fans feeling legitimately hopeful.

Kane: Pondering the significance of one play is what NFL reporters who cover one game a week do! What about DJ Moore’s 56-yard touchdown catch against the Washington Commanders to help close out the Bears’ first win of the season and a 14-game losing streak? What about the 36-yard Fields-Moore connection that set up Cairo Santos’ winning field goal against the Vikings for the Bears’ first NFC North win under Matt Eberflus? Thousands of words have been typed collectively by the Bears beat on those passes.

I also think the Bears defensive players who have 11 takeaways in three games and have largely fueled the recent resurgence might argue for some of their plays. They just have too many to choose from.

But given the stakes of this one, the Bears were trying to beat the NFC North leaders for their first two-game winning streak under Eberflus. And given the ongoing quarterback conversation in Chicago. And given that the Bears so often have been the team on the mistake-making end of such plays — I’ll agree. Big moment for a Bears team that needed more of them.


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