LAKE FOREST, Ill. — Eddie Jackson has seen a lot of things during his time in the NFL. But what happened last Sunday in the locker room following the Bears’ 27-24 loss to the Atlanta Falcons was a first.
There stood 23-year-old Justin Fields, the second-year quarterback with a separated left shoulder who had the Bears averaging just short of 30 points per game for the last month, attempting to apologize to the Bears’ defense for a late-game interception that sealed the loss in Atlanta.
“Nah. Nah, nah, nah. Never seen that before,” Jackson told NBC Sports Chicago when asked if he’d ever had a quarterback apologize for a loss. “That’s the first time.”
Jackson wasn’t having it, especially after the Bears’ defense let Fields down in each of the previous three games. He stopped the apology.
“He’s been doing more than enough,” Jackson told NBC Sports Chicago. “We got to do more on our side to help him.”
While Fields’ attempted apology was a first for Jackson, it didn’t surprise him to see Fields attempt to put the loss all on his shoulders. The Bears know what the young quarterback is made of and how he carries himself.
“It showed us what we already knew,” Jackson told NBC Sports Chicago. “The type of player he is. Leader he is. He’s a winner, fighter. He’ll go out there and leave everything on the line. Things we already knew. The things everyone sees man, it’s true. Justin’s a fighter, a winner, a leader. He really takes this thing serious in how he prepares, how he works, and how he plays the game. He takes it serious. That’s just things we already knew about him though.”
Bears star cornerback Jaylon Johnson was also among those most vocal in not allowing Fields to wear the loss to the Falcons.
Johnson understood Fields’ desire to take all the blame for the loss. He knows that Fields, as the franchise quarterback, is the first in line to be praised or torn down depending on how the Bears play for 60 minutes on any given Sunday.
“He takes a lot of accountability for this team’s success,” Johnson told NBC Sports Chicago. “We know who he is. What he’s about it. It’s really no surprise to us. He’s always been that guy, that leader, somebody to take accountability, been somebody to lead this team and to take everything on.
“He never backs down. He hasn’t batted an eye at anything. He’s always first in line for whatever it is. Really he’s our leader. It just speaks to who he is as our leader. He just keeps showing up.”
Fields suffered a separated shoulder with partially torn ligaments on the first play of the Bears’ final drive in Atlanta. Two plays later, his pass to running back David Montgomery on third down sailed high and was intercepted, ending the Bears’ comeback hopes.
The second-year quarterback has been limited in practice all week and is listed as questionable for Sunday’s game against the New York Jets. Fields will be a game-time decision on Sunday.
While Fields continues to exude leadership for a Bears franchise that is slowly rebuilding, the quarterback the Jets drafted instead of Fields at No. 2 overall in 2021 is having issues in that department.
After going 9-for-22 for 77 yards in the Jets’ 10-3 loss to the New England Patriots in Week 11, Wilson said he didn’t feel like he let the defense down. That reportedly didn’t go over well in the locker room, and the Jets demoted Wilson to third string Wednesday. Wilson eventually addressed the situation with his teammates and apologized.
Fields’ attempted apology resonated with every corner of the Bears’ locker room.
Linebacker Nicholas Morrow called it “bold.” Wide receiver Darnell Mooney noted that the entire offense owns the failed game-winning drive, not just Fields.
Defensive coordinator Alan Williams probably summed it up best.
“I was sad, really I was sad. Because I go, ‘no.’ I just go, ‘no,'” Williams said Thursday. “There’s no reason to ever apologize. If you saw the way he worked – you know what not worked, that’s past tense – the way he works. If you saw the way, he uplifts his teammates. If you say how he sacrificed, you’d go, uh-uh. No chance.
“Puts the team on his back and shoulders the load. But no chance that he needs to apologize.”
In a season where Fields has gone from question mark to franchise cornerstone, his leadership has been a constant.
When his play was subpar early in the season, Fields called himself out as “trash” and vowed to be better. After a blistering month of football that saw him become must-see TV, Fields still tried to bear the full weight of the loss to the Falcons.
It might have been an NFL first for Jackson, Johnson, and the rest of the Bears’ defensive leaders. But it wasn’t a surprise.
Justin Fields has become the heart of this Bears team and the symbol of its future potential. They’ll follow him wherever he leads.
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