Justin Fields may be evolving into the franchise quarterback Chicago Bears fans have been waiting for since Al Capone was alive. Jim McMahon was a capable Super Bowl-winning game manager, but Fields is demonstrating his potential to introduce Chicagoans to a higher caliber of individual quarterback play. The scintillating plays he’s made with his legs thanks to offensive coordinator Luke Getsy finally noticing his 4.4 speed are becoming too common to ignore.
His arm talent is still a work in progress, but he’s been a livewire in the Bears’ previously dormant offense while throwing to a zombie receiving corps. Despite Sunday’s loss to the Lions, Fields’ spectacular play has stood out. In Chicago’s 31-30 defeat, Fields became the first quarterback in the Super Bowl era to rush for two touchdowns, throw a pair of touchdowns and rush for 100 yards in a single game.
Under Matt Nagy, Fields had the NFL’s highest passer rating on designed rollouts in 2021, and it took until a third of the way through the 2022 season for the new coaching staff to notice. Through a five-game span, Fields has rushed for more yards than any quarterback in the Super Bowl era. He’s also the only quarterback with multiple rushing touchdowns of 60 or more yards after another 67-yard scamper against the Lions.
The Atlanta Falcons should be kicking themselves in the head right now watching Fields in Chicago galloping past defenses like their former signal-caller Mike Vick — though Fields is blessed with a sturdier frame — while Marcus Mariota is tossing footballs toward the clouds like he’d been launched into space and forgot which direction the line of scrimmage was.
A year and a half ago, Fields was available for Atlanta to take him with the fourth pick. He’d gone to high school in nearby Kennesaw, played one year collegiately at UGA, and longtime franchise quarterback Matt Ryan was already beginning to go sour the longer he played past his body’s natural expiration date. It was the easy choice, and yet, Atlanta got it wrong. Instead, the Falcons gave Matt Ryan an extension for a young team that was in the midst of a rebuild everywhere but the quarterback position.
Additional hairsplitting about a hitch in Fields’ throwing motion, his occasional hiccups against elite defenses, Fields’ epilepsy diagnosis, and Ohio State’s less-than-stellar history of producing good quarterbacks, resulted in teams devaluing him out of the top 10. Yet, the No. 2 pick, Trey Lance, was a North Dakota State quarterback who was even further behind in his development than Fields after making a quantum leap from facing FCS competition.
It would be one thing if the Falcons made a selection with that fourth pick that filled a position of need with a top-five talent. A pocket-passing virtuoso, a game-wrecking rusher like Micah Parsons, or a shutdown corner who could drape even the best receivers.
No, the Falcons turned down Fields for Florida tight end Kyle Pitts. This season, head coach Arthur Smith has used said tight end as a decoy and blocking tight end. We’re in the third quarter of the 2022 season and Pitt has hauled in 54 receptions for 313 yards.
After Fields’ rookie season, the Falcons ditched Ryan anyways and incurred the largest cap penalty crater in NFL history to make a run at Georgia native Deshaun Watson, because the Falcons were still under the illusion that they were a signal-caller away.
Like Watson, Fields also fell in the first round of the NFL Draft due to concerns over his accuracy. However, as we’ve seen from Josh Allen and Tua Tagovailoa, quarterbacks can be salvaged. Fields wasn’t a sure thing, but it’s worth kissing a few frogs to draft a prince.
In the most recent draft, Atlanta selected 6-foot-4 receiver Drake London, but the Falcons’ depth chart doesn’t feature an arm who can maximize his or Pitts’ talent. Travis Kelce doesn’t shine without Patrick Mahomes. Shannon Sharpe doesn’t dazzle without John Elway. Gronk was attached at the hip to Brady. Mariota ranks 27th in completion percentage, has thrown the NFL’s third-most interceptions, has rushed for half as many yards as Fields, is 32nd in average passing yardage, 23rd in attempts, and is off target at a prolific rate.
At 4-6, the Falcons appear content to hover around .500 with Mariota or Desmond Ridder, if they ever decide to send him out for a twirl. UGA made the same mistake with Fields during his true freshman season, believing they’d found their guy in redshirt freshman Jake Fromm.
Fields belonged in red. From UGA to Ohio State’s scarlet red, the Falcons talked themselves out of cashing in a lottery ticket and have spent two seasons regretting that choice since. Now they find themselves navigating the landscape hoping another franchise quarterback finds his way to Atlanta.
This week, snubbing Fields in the draft looms larger in the rearview mirror. The Falcons will get an up close and personal peek at the road not traveled when Fields comes home to Atlanta this upcoming Sunday. Fields will undoubtedly be energized for this one and if he leaves his footprints all over the Falcons’ defense, the pressure on Atlanta’s front-office brass to solve their quarterback problem will intensify.