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Why the Chicago Bears exceeded expectations

A 3-13 team exceeding expectations? It's hard to imagine, but there is one name that makes this idea possible: Justin Fields.

It's hard to imagine now that at the beginning of the season that there was some possibility the GM Ryan Poles would have a new QB for the 2023 season.

But ever since Week 7 on cold night in New England, the whole trajectory of the Chicago Bears changed franchise has changed.

Instead of looking at CJ Stroud, Bryce Young or Will Levis in the draft, the Bears know they have their guy at QB.

For a franchise that has trotted out the likes of Cade McNown, Jim Harbaugh, Rex Grossman, Kyle Orton, Caleb Hanie, Mike Glennon, Matt Barkley, Chase Daniels and Mitch Trubisky, the thought of having the first true Franchise quarterback is unthinkable (Sorry Jay Cutler, love you but you weren't quite that guy).

Yet here we are. Chicago, we have our franchise quarterback.

The year got off to an odd start with a 2-1 start after monsoon victory over fellow 2021 first round quarterback Trey Lance and the 49ers, 19-10, the cursory loss to Packers on Sunday Night in Week 2, followed by an ugly 23-20 win over the Houston Texans.

Despite the solid record the offense looked disjointed outside of the run game throughout the next two weeks, as they ranked dead last in pass yards per game and 27th in scoring while ranking 5th in rushing.

In part had to due with a scheme that wasn't working with the quarterback and the suspect offensive line that had given up 18 sacks to that point.

Those glaring weaknesses were exploited, most transparently in one of the worst games of football I have ever seen in Week 6.

The Bears played host to the Washington Commanders on Thursday Night Football at Solider Field.

It was an ugly, ugly 12-7 loss where it came down to a fourth-and-goal, where Fields was sacked fives times and pressured 18 times.

The big thing that changed was the ability for the Bears to self-scout themselves during the extended mini-bye week between the Thursday Night game and the Monday Night game against New England.

The Bears shifted their whole offensive strategy and they looked to other teams with mobile QB's to get the best out of Fields.

While the Bears have yet to win a game since their 33 point explosion in Foxborough, going on a nine game losing streak as of the writing of this article. Most of that is the fault of the team around not Fields himself.

After trading away defensive anchors in linebacker Roquan Smith (received a 2nd round pick from Baltimore) and and edge rusher Robert Quinn (received a 4th round pick from Philadelphia), the Bears defense has dropped off a cliff.

The Bears defense sits last in sacks, tied for last in pass yards per attempt allowed, 11th worst in completion percentage allowed and have given up the most rushing touchdowns at 29.

But that wasn't the point of this season, it was to see if Fields could lead an explosive offense over an extended stretch and the answer was yes.

From Week 7 to Week 15 the Bears averaged 26.7 points per game including 33 vs. New England, 32 vs. Miami and 30 vs. Detroit.

Fields was electric as he completed 67.3% of his passes for 1,179 yards, 11 touchdowns to just five interceptions.

The former Buckeye was even better on the ground as he put up 718 yards, while adding in seven more scores.

Fields development came to a head in the Bears Week 9 match-up vs the Dolphins where arguably had his best game as a pro.

The 2nd year signal caller etched his name into the NFL record book as he ran all over Miami's defense for the tune of 178 yards, the most ever in the regular season by a QB. It was just three shy of Colin Kaepernick's 181 yards in the playoffs against the Packers back in 2013.

Fields would also add 17-of-28, 123 yards and three touchdowns through the air. The Bears would go on to lose 35-32, but that was more on a missed pass interference call on Chase Claypool and a dropped pass from Equanimeous St. Brown on 4th-and-10.

The offense has tailed off since that run, with the Bears averaging a measly 13.7 points per game, but that has more to say with the offensive talent around Fields getting hurt throughout the year.

Cody Whitehair, Teven Jenkins, Khalil Herbert, Claypool and St. Brown have all had injuries that have sidelined them for several weeks, while WR1 Darnell Mooney and Center Lucas Patrick have been out for the season since week 12 and 7 respectively.

The Bears and GM Ryan Poles have a tall task ahead of them if they want to bring this team back into any sort relevancy.

Besides having the quarterback, I think Chicago has the right coach to lead the way. Matt Eberflus has had this team in almost every single game this season. The Bears are 1-7 in one score games and 1-3 in games decided by a field goal or less.

Five of those one score games have come against potential playoff teams:

  • 20-12 vs. New York Giants

  • 29-22 vs. Minnesota Vikings

  • 35-32 vs. Miami Dolphins

  • 31-30 vs. Detroit Lions

  • 25-20 vs. Philadelphia Eagles

If you can have a team in all those games with talent deficiency the Bears are operating with against playoff level opponents, I think the Bears might have something in the former defensive coordinator.

Chicago's front office is already taking strides to improve the team by trading for Claypool for Chicago's own second round pick, which at this stage is slated to be either 33 or 34.

Despite that potentially failed trade, the Bears have just about $120 million in cap space and eight draft picks to spare. There is light at the end of the tunnel for this Bears team, regardless of this awful season, because all that mattered is that #1 is the guy.

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