Haugh: Bears lose again, but nobody's complaining after this Fields day


(670 The Score) Justin Fields made history Sunday at Soldier Field but, more significantly, single-handedly manufactured hope for the Bears’ future.

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Fields broke the NFL regular-season single-game rushing record for quarterbacks with 178 electrifying rushing yards in an entertaining 35-32 loss to the Dolphins that most of Chicago viewed as a victory.

And in many ways, even traditionalists must acknowledge it was.

For the third straight game, Fields flashed the unique skill set that qualifies him as the potential franchise quarterback the Bears have searched decades to find. The Dolphins had as hard of a time stopping Fields as the Bears defense did trying to stop the Dolphins, who scored five touchdowns and gained 379 total yards.

Yet Miami’s offensive outburst nearly wasn’t enough for one reason and only one reason: No. 1.

“Obviously, a huge day for Justin Fields and the franchise today,’’ Bears coach Matt Eberflus said.

A Fields Day for the books.

On the final two drives of the game, Fields perhaps reminded everyone he remains far from a polished passer, but his uncanny ability to make something out of nothing as a runner promises to make the wait worth it for everyone. The most memorable example came on the 61-yard touchdown run in which Fields hesitated in the pocket, where he appeared to be sacked. Instead, Fields made two Dolphins miss before kicking into a gear only certain players possess on his way to another highlight-reel play – breaking the team record that Vince Evans set 42 years ago for the longest touchdown run by a Bears quarterback.

There are designed runs, tuck-and-runs and the kind of runs that can’t be coached or defended. This was the latter. This is what extraordinary looks like, Fields effortlessly zigging and zagging around pass rushers in the pocket and making linebackers and defensive backs miss on the second level. This is the kind of explosiveness that fuels Fields’ confidence, going back to the huddle after breaking the back of a third-down blitz designed to fluster him. This is what happens when a smart coaching staff plays to a player’s strengths rather than trying to force a square peg of an athlete into a round hole of a scheme.

This is what Fields can be to the Bears from now moving forward, a reason they never can be counted out anytime against any team.

While Chicago debates whether Fields running the ball so often is sustainable for an NFL quarterback, consider for a moment what the rest of the league will ponder after his historic performance Sunday.

Is he stoppable?

The Dolphins might agree it’s a fair question.

“You run into those type of players once in a while in the National Football League, and you've got to be able to take away what they're doing really well," Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel said.

Easier said than done. A play on the Bears' last-gasp fourth-quarter drive made McDaniel’s point: On third-and-7 in the fourth quarter, with his team down 35-32, Fields escaped Bradley Chubb’s grasp in the pocket, ran through Eric Rowe’s tackle and picked up the first down to keep his team alive. The Dolphins did everything right defensively by providing tight coverage so nobody was open and collapsing the pocket yet still gave up the first down. Even the brightest NFL minds know you can’t scheme against special.

“Justin Fields, is as slippery right now as you can be," Bears Radio play-by-play voice Jeff Joniak bellowed in the booth.

Fields slithered around for 178 yards on 15 carries, eclipsing Michael Vick’s record of 173 yards established in 2002. The only quarterback with more in a game was Colin Kaepernick with 181 yards for the 49ers in a playoff victory over the Packers in 2013. With his running somehow improving his passing efficiency, Fields completed 17 of 28 passes for 123 yards and three touchdowns for a 106.7 passer rating. When Fields gets on the kind of roll he was on against the Dolphins, it’s like watching an NBA shooter who can’t miss or a major league hitter on a home run binge. In playground terms, he was feeling it.

“Credit God — he’s blessed me with these gifts," Fields said. “I think I’m just growing and getting better each and every week."

As Fields grows, the arrow continues pointing up in Lake Forest regardless of the standings. At the midway point of the NFL season, we've seen Fields progress from occasionally inept to improved to impressive to incomparable.

What an unusual reality at Halas Hall this season, as general manager Ryan Poles recently made moves that underscored how little winning now matters compared to his stated overall goal of taking the NFC North later. Since beating the Patriots on Monday Night Football on Oct. 24, Poles has traded Pro Bowl-caliber defensive players Robert Quinn and Roquan Smith, seen his team give up an average of 37 points in two straight losses and never felt more enthusiasm over the direction of the Bears. Not even Eberflus, the coachiest of coaches paid to worry about the outcomes, sounded all that disappointed given the gravity of what Fields accomplished.

“It's special," Eberflus said. “I think we are building our football team. We have a young football team. We are building upon that. And the centerpiece of that is the quarterback. That's the way it is in the NFL. Talk about toughness and grit and the ability to persevere through a lot of different things. Obviously start of the season, he’s feeling his way, and now the last three games he's really taken off."

Specifically, Fields started showing positive signs early. On third-and-8 on the Bears’ first touchdown drive, Fields spun away from blitzing linebacker Jaelan Phillips, darted upfield directly on his next step and gained 12 yards for a first down. Later on the same drive, Fields confidently rolled right and hit Mooney in stride for a key conversion on third-and-10.

On the 18-yard touchdown pass to tight end Cole Kmet, bootleg action and a moving pocket gave Fields an easier throw to make. On the 16-yard touchdown pass to Mooney, Fields’ favorite target ran a perfect route against All-Pro cornerback Xavien Howard. Sensing Mooney would get open, Fields never looked anywhere else before putting the pass the only place he could.

“Couldn’t ask for a better play call in that situation," Fields said.

Speaking of play-caller Luke Getsy, the first-year Bears offensive coordinator appears to have found his groove just as Fields looks more comfortable. Have fun debating in barrooms and living rooms which happened first, but it’s no coincidence that since Getsy fully embraced tailoring game plans around Fields’ running ability, the Bears offense has flourished. In other words, Getsy being willing to use Fields the way the Ravens use Lamar Jackson will go down as one of his best ideas of the season. On good days, quarterbacks that athletic become scheme-proof. Sunday marked the second straight game in which Fields surpassed a 100 passer rating, and he's running an offense averaging 31 points across the last three games. Getting Kmet more involved also paid off for Getsy.

Chase Claypool played more snaps than some expected, with the Bears involving the newly acquired wide receiver early. Claypool caught two passes and drew a 28-yard pass interference penalty on Dolphins cornerback Keion Crossen that kept the opening drive alive on third-and-2. Claypool dropped a screen pass and only will improve his chemistry with Fields, but imagine the possibilities once everybody gets used to each other.

If Fields is the most obvious reason why, the running game rates a close second. With Cody Whitehair back at left guard – Chicago used its sixth starting offensive line combination in nine games – the Bears amassed 252 rushing yards on 40 carries. They became only the fifth team to rush for at least 225 yards in four straight games since 1976.

Unfortunately, the Bears defense might soon make it necessary to leaf through the record books if these trends continue. The Dolphins basically did whatever they wanted whenever they wanted.

As obviously as Bears defensive backs struggled against Dolphins receivers Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, they got little help from the pass rush. Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa might not have to lauder his white No. 1 jersey after this one. Tagovailoa stayed Hawaiian cool in the pocket, waiting for his receivers to clear open as they consistently did. The lefty completed 10 of his first 11 passes and didn’t throw an incompletion until 1 minute remained in the first half. Mixing efficiency with explosiveness provides a potent mix. The league’s highest-rated passer, Tagovailoa finished 21-of-30 for 302 yards with three touchdowns and a 135.7 passer rating.

The Dolphins led 21-10 after having run only 13 plays. The Bears’ best defense was their offense, which did all it could early to keep the Dolphins at bay. They held the ball for 11 minutes 30 seconds in the first quarter – and still trailed 7-3. This just isn’t a good defense without Smith and Quinn. It barely was competitive with them.

Teams like the Bears with such a razor-thin margin for error can’t allow blocked punts. They just can’t, yet another special teams breakdown increased the degree of difficulty. With 8:25 left in the second quarter, Phillips blocked Trenton Gill’s punt and teammate Andrew Van Ginkel scooted 25 yards for a back-breaking touchdown.

Teams as limited as the Bears also need more breaks than the Bears got, especially from officials in the fourth quarter. Eddie Jackson got flagged for a 47-yard pass interference penalty that involved much less contact than, say, Dolphins cornerback Keion Crossen made with Claypool on third-and-10 later in the quarter.

Nonetheless, this game will be remembered more for confirming the Bears made the right call on Fields than officials making the wrong ones on pass interference.

On an unseasonably warm and windy day along the lakefront, the Bears fell to 3-6 but lifted spirits all over town.

David Haugh is the co-host of the Mully & Haugh Show from 5-10 a.m. weekdays on 670 The Score. Click here to listen. Follow him on Twitter @DavidHaugh.

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