When Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields arrived in the locker room after a snowy 37-17 victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday at Soldier Field, he was surprised to find it clouded with cigar smoke.
Someone had left the cigars on a table for the team to partake in, either to celebrate New Year’s Eve or the Bears’ fifth straight home win or just the general resurgence of a team that has won four of its last five games.
“I’m not going to be at home lighting a cigar,” Fields said. “But of course I did it in the locker room to celebrate with the guys.”
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If it feels a bit much for a 7-9 team, the good vibes are understandable given that the Bears started 0-4 and have built momentum late in the year despite much speculation about the future of the coaching staff and Fields over the last two months.
One piece of that future crystallized before the Bears had finished easily disposing of the 7-9 Falcons behind a good day from Fields and four interceptions by the Bears defense.
With the Carolina Panthers’ loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday, the Bears secured the No. 1 pick in the 2024 draft, which general manager Ryan Poles obtained in the trade of last year’s No. 1 pick. It gives Poles a prime opportunity to continue building the team, whether that be trading back to obtain more picks as he did last year or selecting a new quarterback.
Fields is well aware of the choice Poles has, and the quarterback did his part Sunday to make the decision tougher — so much so that he had fans at Soldier Field chanting, “We want Fields!” as the game wrapped up. He threw for 268 yards and a touchdown with no turnovers and rushed for 45 yards and a touchdown.
Fields heard the chants and said it was part of a memorable day, which included the Bears putting up their second-highest scoring total of the season against the team for which the Georgia native grew up cheering. He said he tried to soak in what potentially could have been his last start at Soldier Field for the Bears, but more so because he has made living in the moment a priority.
“I definitely will remember this game for the rest of my life,” Fields said. “Just the atmosphere, the fans, the chants, the snow. I don’t like snow as a quarterback, but it was great. … Playing the hometown team where I’m from and beating them. So it was a good day today.”
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The Bears led from their first drive of the game, which ended with Fields delivering a 7-yard touchdown strike to DJ Moore in the back left corner of the end zone just before Fields was hit.
Moore had nine catches for 159 yards to put him at a career-high 1,300 receiving yards for the season. Moore’s 32-yard catch over his shoulder sparked the next drive, which ended in a 9-yard Fields touchdown run.
“The snow kind of got in my way,” Moore said. “I had to track it and then blind catch it. It was like, ‘Thank goodness that I caught this.’”
The Bears led 21-7 at halftime and kept the momentum going in the second half so the game was never really close. Khalil Herbert had his second straight game with more than 100 rushing yards, totaling 18 carries for 124 yards and a touchdown.
One of Fields’ most remarkable plays didn’t come on a scoring drive but would fit in well in a presentation arguing his case to remain in Chicago. On third-and-8 in the third quarter, he dipped his head out of one tackle attempt, pulled his leg away from another and left a third would-be tackler sliding on the grass as he rushed for 13 yards.
“A Houdini play,” Moore said.
“I felt like there was one guy — boom,” Fields said. “Another guy was on me — boom. Then another guy was on me — boom. And when I got up the third time, I looked up and I just saw green grass.”
While some in Chicago still may be arguing that the grass is greener on the other side of the draft, Fields’ teammates continued to offer their votes of support after a day in which Fields put up the fifth-best passing output of his career.
“I did hear the chants,” Moore said. “And I know (the GM’s) box is right there, so I know they heard that stuff too.”
“Of course I heard them,” safety Jaquan Brisker said. “I want Justin. We all want Justin. Let’s go!”
Brisker was part of a Bears performance on defense that points to another big question for the Bears. Has coach Matt Eberflus, whose defense has largely fueled the turnaround, secured his job beyond this season?
NFL Network reporter Ian Rapoport reported Saturday that Eberflus is building a case to stay for a third season. Then on Sunday, linebacker T.J. Edwards, cornerback Tyrique Stevenson and nickel Kyler Gordon each intercepted Falcons quarterback Taylor Heinicke. Stevenson came up with a fourth pick against backup quarterback Desmond Ridder. A 75-yard touchdown on a screen pass from Heinicke to Tyler Allgeier was the one major blip.
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Eberflus brushed off questions about his future — and that of the No. 1 pick — saying he was focused on spending time with his family for the holiday Sunday night, while also watching some film at home. The Bears play the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field next weekend to close the season.
“My eyes are forward on the corrections of this game, and I really don’t pay attention to that,” Eberflus said of the report about his future. “I’m a football coach, so I know there’s always going to be noise out there, good or bad. If you listen to either one of them, guess what, you ain’t doing your job. And for me, doing my job is focusing on the men in that locker room and the coaches and the development of the Chicago Bears, and that’s what I’m going to do.”
His players were happy to enjoy the moment too rather than look ahead, though not everyone was big into the cigars. Stevenson said he tried one — and didn’t like it.
“I put it down immediately,” Stevenson said. “Whatever it is to celebrate with these guys, I’m happy we came together throughout the year. All the doubters, all the haters, we overcame all that, and we just showed the world what type of team we are and how we believe in each other.”