CHICAGO (AP) — There is nothing more important for the future of the Chicago Bears than the development of quarterback Justin Fields.
No one has to explain that to coach Matt Nagy.
“When you go up and draft a quarterback as high as we did, I totally understand the significance in seeing growth with the future,” Nagy said. “You want to be able to see that.”
The recent strides by Fields are one positive in a difficult stretch. The Bears (3-6) stumbled into their bye with four straight losses, and the heat on Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace in Chicago is intensifying again.
A big chunk of the fans might be more concerned about the prized rookie’s growth than whether the team wins. But Nagy sees no reason why they can’t have it both ways.
“We understand what our goal is as a team, right?” Nagy said. “And Justin’s a big part of that. And that’s winning, so that we can win and see growth with him.”
Fields had his best game in a 29-27 loss at Pittsburgh on Monday night.
The former Ohio State star threw for a career-high 291 yards and helped Chicago grab a short-lived lead in the closing minutes after trailing by 14 through three quarters.
That came on the heels of a promising performance against San Francisco. Fields had a dazzling touchdown run and a neat scoring pass to a diving Jesse James in end zone.
Plays like those, plus the poise he is showing are just what the Bears envisioned when they traded up nine spots with the New York Giants to draft him with the No. 11 overall pick.
“Just keep going,” Fields said. “Don’t change. Don’t think. Just keep working, keep working like it’s Week one, just don’t get complacent and keep working.”
The Bears have plenty of work to do.
They haven’t won since beating Detroit and Las Vegas in back-to-back weeks, and the schedule is about to take a tough turn.
Three of the next four games are against teams currently in first place, starting with Baltimore at Soldier Field on Nov. 21. Chicago plays at struggling Detroit on Thanksgiving, but then hosts Arizona and visits Green Bay.
There could be some decisions to make down the stretch when it comes to going with young players or sticking with veterans. But Nagy insisted his own job security won’t factor into that.
Rookie offensive lineman Teven Jenkins appears to be inching toward a return after having surgery in mid-August for a back injury that prevented him from participating in any training camp practices. The second-round pick from Oklahoma State worked out before the game at Pittsburgh.
Jenkins was in line to open the season as the starting left tackle even though he played more at right tackle in college. His injury led to the Bears signing 39-year-old Jason Peters — a two-time All-Pro left tackle.
“You keep it super simple and you say winning is good, right?” Nagy said. “That’s what you want. However we get to that point with whoever it is, that’s where your assistant coaches, myself, your coordinators, you all have got to talk through that and say OK, where are we at, and who’s best for us at that spot and then let’s roll.”
Chicago is hardly rolling.
The Bears opted to stick with Pace and Nagy rather than make sweeping changes after last season. The team’s struggles this year have fueled more speculation about their futures.
After all, the Bears haven’t won a playoff game since the 2010 season. Chicago is 45-60 since Pace was hired in 2015. Nagy has a 31-26 record in four seasons, but the Bears are 19-22 the past three.
The offense he was brought in to fix remains a sore spot despite the promising signs from Fields.
Chicago ranks 31st in the NFL in yards per game and has not finished higher than 21st during Nagy’s tenure. Though they’re tied for sixth in rushing, the Bears are last in passing and 30th in scoring.
The defense has been shaky in recent weeks after performing reasonably well in the early going. The Monsters of the Midway rank 13th overall and 23rd against the run.
A foot injury has kept star pass rusher Khalil Mack out the past two weeks after the three-time All-Pro had six sacks in the first seven games. Defensive tackle Akiem Hicks missed two games because of a groin injury and is dealing with an ankle problem, limiting one of the Bears’ most disruptive linemen.
From here, it doesn’t get easier.
More AP NFL coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL