CHICAGO (670 The Score) -- The Bears lost 35-32 to the Dolphins on Sunday, but in many ways, it felt like a victory as second-year quarterback Justin Fields had a historic day.
Here are the observations from a beautiful fall Sunday at Soldier Field along the lakefront.
What really matters
Bears coach Matt Eberflus recognized how meaningful Sunday was for Fields.
“Obviously, a huge step for Justin Fields and the franchise today,” Eberflus said after this loss.
With that comment, Eberflus didn't intend to diminish what the game meant for the other 52 players on the active roster. Rather, he captured the spirit of what it meant for the Bears organization.
The Bears finally have a quarterback whom they can build around and the type of emerging star who inspires hope for the future. Fields is becoming that caliber of player. That alone was worth celebrating above all else.
Fields set an NFL record for rushing yards by a quarterback in a regular-season game with 178 yards on the ground. He surpassed a 173-yard mark previously held by the great Michael Vick from 2002 and came three yards shy of 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s 181 rushing yards during a playoff game in January 2013. Fields also set a Bears record for the longest rushing play by a quarterback with his spectacular 61-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
Fields is taking ownership of the Bears’ offensive identity. He also threw for three touchdowns in producing an efficient passing performance that showcased his continued growth.
Fields has the ability to take over a game with his dynamic dual-threat talents and comfort in offensive coordinator Luke Getsy’s scheme.
"I'm just growing, getting better each and every week,” Fields said. “My main goal right now is just to continue to do that. Continue to trend up."
For the Bears (3-6), there’s nothing more important than Fields' development this season. The team isn’t actively trying to win a championship in 2022, its first season led by Eberflus and general manager Ryan Poles. The priority is to grow with and around the 23-year-old Fields.
Regardless of their final record, the Bears can define this as a successful season if Fields continues his upward trajectory toward becoming a franchise quarterback.
Let’s talk about the defense
It’s been an unusual shift for there to be excitement to watch the Bears’ offense and a grim feeling when their defense takes the field for a series.
But after trading linebacker Roquan Smith and pass rusher Robert Quinn in recent weeks, the Bears have one of the worst defenses in football. The current defensive woes don't matter much for Chicago's future, which will include only a few players from this starting unit – mainly in the rebuilt secondary.
The Bears believe they have their defensive backfield set in top cornerback Jaylon Johnson, rookie cornerback Kyler Gordon, veteran safety Eddie Jackson and rookie safety Jaquan Brisker. All four should be set as starters for 2023 and beyond, but the Bears' defensive front sorely lacks in building blocks. It’s getting pushed around by more talented opponents.
When they have the proper resources, NFL teams can often overhaul their defense in one offseason. And the Bears have the salary cap space and draft capital to do so next spring.
With all that in mind, the Bears shouldn’t worry too much as their defense gets picked apart. If Fields and the offense keep pace, these will be fun football games to follow and inspire hope.
Starting the Chase
On third-and-10 late in the game, Fields threw deep down the left sideline to new receiver Chase Claypool. The pass fell incomplete, but it certainly seemed to be a defensive pass interference penalty on the Dolphins that was simply missed by the officials.
“That was definitely PI, for sure,” Fields said. “He just missed it. Can’t do anything about it. Just got to move on to the next play.”
One play later, Fields’ pass on fourth-and-10 was dropped by receiver Equanimeous St. Brown, allowing the Dolphins to secure the victory. What could’ve been a memorable moment in Claypool’s debut wasn't to be, but he showed how he can contribute.
It was telling that with the game on the line, the Bears wanted to create a mismatch for the 6-foot-4, 238-pound Claypool, who can win the deep ball battles or draw a pass interference penalty with his size.
Claypool caught two passes for 13 yards in his Bears debut after being acquired from the Steelers last Tuesday. It was the culmination of a busy week to get up to speed.
Claypool studied the playbook for hours so he could step in with the Bears.
“It was a whirlwind, for sure,” Claypool said. “Trying to catch up, early mornings, late nights.
“It’s a cool experience to have a team want you like that and be excited for you to get involved.”
After rushing for 252 yards Sunday, the Bears are the second team in the Super Bowl era to compile more than 225 rushing yards in four straight games, according to NFL research. Only the 1976 Steelers have also accomplished this feat.
The Bears are also the first team to surpass more than 200 rushing yards in four straight games since the 1978 Patriots. Fields became the first player since at least 1950 to rush for 150 more yards and throw three touchdown passes in the same game, according to NFL research.
-- Fields' 18-yard touchdown pass to tight end Cole Kmet in the second quarter came after an excellent play-action fake by Fields, who sold the handoff well to help create an opening for Kmet in coverage.
-- Rookie Jack Sanborn got the start for the Bears at middle linebacker, with veteran Nicholas Morrow sliding over to the weakside position that was previously occupied by Smith. Sanborn had seven tackles and was strong against the run.
-- Running back Khalil Herbert is having a strong season, but he lamented his missed block on special teams that led to the Dolphins’ blocked punt and return touchdown in the second quarter.
-- It's a wild experience watching the Bears suddenly have a fun and exciting offense.
-- That was absolutely a pass interference penalty on the Dolphins on Fields' late deep ball to Claypool, and the thrilling game deserved overtime.
-- "The Madden ratings better go up,” Bears quarterback Darnell Mooney said after Fields' big day. That wasn’t said when Sid Luckman emerged as the Bears’ franchise quarterback.
-- For the first time since at least 1992, the Bears have a better quarterback than the Packers.
-- It’s happening.
Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.