Fresh out of the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry, Fields believes he has at least a little bit of an idea of what to expect. But he’ll likely be fighting this battle a lot longer than he sparred with the Wolverines.
As rookie quarterback Justin Fields settles into the starting job for the Bears, it’s becoming clearer that his calm, unflinching demeanor is authentic. He’s not trying to put on a stone-faced front just for show.
Nothing jostles him out of that mentality, so it was perfectly predictable that he’d remain almost expressionless as he discussed his upcoming foray into the NFL’s most storied rivalry. Fields was virtually indifferent toward the Packers, sounding the same while talking about them as he did the Browns, Lions and Raiders over the last few weeks.
It should not be misinterpreted as disinterest or disrespect. It’s just how he is, and it’s one of his best qualities amid the chaos of the NFL.
“I haven’t noticed an ounce of change in him in the last couple of days,” coach Matt Nagy said. “I don’t ever think that is going to change. That’s a huge strength of his.
“When you have a loss like we had versus Cleveland or you have a win like we just had against the Raiders, you can’t tell a difference. That’s a pretty good deal there.”
It’s also a pretty good deal for Nagy that Fields is even available for this game after his left knee bent backward gruesomely against the Raiders. He hyperextended it and was still experiencing pain Wednesday, but was a full participant in practice and said, “I’ll be good by Sunday.”
Fields didn’t say much about the rivalry — “I’m pretty familiar with it,” he said, then looked around for the next question — other than a few compliments for Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and some memories from playing in a parallel matchup against Michigan when he starred at Ohio State.
He didn’t even smirk when a reporter cracked a joke that the Bears are the Michigan of this rivalry, having lost four in a row and 21 of the last 25.
In his only appearance in The Big Game, Fields and Ohio State womped Michigan 56-27 in 2019 as he threw four touchdown passes. When asked about his favorite part of experiencing that rivalry, he paused and said, “Probably beating them.”
Nobody around Halas Hall has made any smart remarks like that about the Packers since the mid-2000s, when the Bears enjoyed a run of beating them seven times in five seasons. Jay Cutler went 2-12 (including a playoff loss) after that, then Mitch Trubisky went 1-6.
Making up for all those losses is a lot to ask of Fields in his fourth start, but like many other aspects of his job, playing big-time college football gave him a valuable preview of what it’d be like.
“I wouldn’t say it totally prepares me for this, but I have a pretty good idea of what a big rivalry game looks like,” he said. “Trash talk before the game, in warm-ups, fans talking trash and stuff like that — I always enjoyed that. Hearing what they say and the nonsense coming out of their mouths always gave me a good laugh.”
Oh, so he does laugh sometimes.
It’s been hard to even call Bears-Packers a rivalry with a straight face lately given how frequently and emphatically Green Bay has won, and punching their way back into it is the first step toward respectability for the Bears.
Regardless of whether Fields realizes or admits it, that’s part of the responsibility he inherited when the Bears chose him as their franchise quarterback. And unlike his cameo in the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry, he might spend the rest of his career fighting in this one.