5 things we learned from the Chicago Bears, including Justin Fields and Jaylon Johnson addressing their uncertain futures

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After Sunday’s devastating 20-17 loss to the Cleveland Browns, the Chicago Bears returned to practice Wednesday. Coach Matt Eberflus has pushed his players to reset and refocus with the Arizona Cardinals coming to town for Christmas Eve. The Bears are home favorites for Sunday’s game but will have to be sharp to get back on the winning track.

As the team readies for its Week 16 test, here are five things we learned Wednesday at Halas Hall.

1. Quarterback Justin Fields is aware of the amplified talk about his uncertain future.

The chatter has been escalating recently — both in Chicago and across the league — as curiosity heightens for how the Bears will handle their quarterback decisions during a pivotal 2024 offseason. Fields still has two seasons remaining on his rookie contract but remains the subject of significant trade speculation with the Bears potentially in line to own the No. 1 pick for April’s draft.

Will the team opt to reboot at quarterback by selecting Southern Cal’s Caleb Williams, North Carolina’s Drake Maye or another prospect in this year’s draft class? Or will the Bears trade that pick and again put their bet on Fields to make a long-awaited developmental breakthrough that allows him to be the engine of a championship pursuit?

After Wednesday’s practice, Fields was asked what he thinks he has shown the Bears decision-makers with his play in 2023. “Improvement,” he said. “They know. They know. Everybody in the building knows who I am. Like I said, I can control what I can control and that’s it.”

In his third season, Fields has again had breathtaking flashes of playmaking brilliance combined with stretches of inconsistent production and a monthlong injury absence.

Teammates have continued to have Fields’ back with receiver DJ Moore vocalizing his belief in his quarterback after Sunday’s loss.

Said Fields: “It means a lot. (The guys) know the work I put in for this every day. I try to lead the team the best way possible. I’m just glad I’m making a positive impact and that my teammates feel that way about me.”

Ultimately, the way general manager Ryan Poles feels about Fields will be the most significant in determining whether he stays with the Bears in 2024 or is dealt away.

2. The Bears will also have a big decision to make with cornerback Jaylon Johnson.

Johnson’s contract will expire in March and negotiations on a possible extension stalled out earlier this fall. So what might happen after the regular season ends?

The 24-year-old cornerback is having his best season to date and shares the team lead (and is tied for fourth leaguewide) with four interceptions. Johnson said Wednesday he is confident he has added value to his second contract, wherever that may come from, but then was emphatic in expressing his desire to remain with the Bears.

“I want to stay here,” he said. “I definitely want to get something done (here) first. But at the end of the day, if something doesn’t get done, then I’m not opposed to other options. But I would love to stay here. So that’s that.”

In short, Johnson said he isn’t dead set on testing the free agent market in March if the Bears approach him with a suitable offer before then. As for his push to stay with the Bears?

“I mean it’s all I know, honestly,” Johnson said. “I just couldn’t see myself anywhere else. … I feel like we’re building something special, too, especially with the guys in this locker room. I don’t think it’s something I can get anywhere else. I would like to stay and continue to build and make this better. And I want to win some games and get to the playoffs and make a push with this Chicago name, too.”

3. Tyrique Stevenson estimated he had upward of 30 missed calls from his mom Sunday.

The rookie’s interception of a third-quarter Joe Flacco pass into the end zone was one of the Bears’ biggest highlights in a strong defensive effort. Stevenson’s mom was as excited as anyone.

“She was just yelling into the phone,” he said. “She was more excited than me.”

Stevenson has impressed coaches and teammates alike with his poise and sturdy self-belief through a challenging first NFL season.

“Honestly, he’s just continuing to fight. Continuing to stay in it,” Johnson said of his teammate. “A lot of the time, especially at the cornerback position, you don’t have success early and you can just kind of go into the tank. I feel like he has continued to fight, continued to grow. And you definitely just see his confidence out there on the field. That has continued to shine no matter what is going on.”

Sunday’s interception, with Stevenson making a good read and a decisive break in zone coverage, was the latest evidence of his improving feel for the game.

“Being able to showcase my talent feels good,” Stevenson said, “just knowing that I’m putting in the hard work and it’s paying off.”

4. Darnell Mooney, DeMarcus Walker and Teven Jenkins all missed practice Wednesday.

Mooney was out with an illness but was still in the building at Halas Hall. Walker is dealing with a leg injury. And Jenkins remains in concussion protocol after leaving Sunday’s game in the first half.

Other Bears who did not practice Wednesday were Travis Homer (hamstring), Equanimeous St. Brown (pectoral), Jaylon Jones (calf) and Noah Sewell (knee).

5. The Bears 2-minute drive at the end of Sunday’s first half was a mixed bag.

Offensively, that series was one of the Bears’ most impressive of the afternoon, a 61-yard march that took them from their own 2-yard line to the Browns 37 in the final minute before halftime. Running back Roschon Johnson broke off a 23-yard run on the second play. Fields had six completions on the drive, including a 20-yarder to Moore. And the Bears, with good situational awareness and sound clock management, were on the edge of Cairo Santos’ field goal range with time to push closer.

“We did a good job with the operation in 2-minute, getting a chance to get a shot at a field goal,” Fields said.

Alas, with 8 seconds remaining, a Fields pass to Darnell Mooney was broken up by safety Ronnie Hickman and left the Bears to settle for a final play Hail Mary that was unsuccessful.

On the play to Mooney, Eberflus lauded the play design and the route combination that got Mooney open at the Browns 30.

“We’ve just got to make that connection,” Eberflus said. “And if we make that connection right there, we’re going to be right where we need to be.”

Instead, with pressure coming, Fields double clutched, altered his throwing angle and threw a pass that brought Hickman back into the play.

“I’ve just got to stop Mooney with the ball so that safety can’t get involved rather than lead him,” Fields said.

With a timeout left, a completion there would have given the Bears a field goal try. Alas …

Said Eberflus: “We’ve just got to make that play at that point.”


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