Couch: Clock Ticking On Start of Justin Fields Era With The Bears

The answer Chicago has been waiting for is Sunday, Oct. 3 at noon. Or 143 days from now. But it’s not as if I’m counting. (That’s 3,432 hours from noon central time today).

That’s when Justin Fields is going to get his first start as the Chicago Bears quarterback. It will be the fourth game of the Bears’ season, and he’ll start against the Detroit Lions and get his first win.

That’s how I’m figuring it anyway, from the schedule that the NFL announced Wednesday night. You have to give the NFL major props for its schedule release. Somehow, Roger Goodell has turned Schedule Day into something big, almost like Draft Day, even though everyone already knew which teams were on everyone’s schedule. It’s all based on a formula.

The NFL is just so popular that it can announce something everyone already knows and make a splash out of it. They could draw ratings and odds by announcing that today is Thursday. 

All we found out on Schedule Day were the specific times and dates, which are important only if you’re planning things out 3,432 hours in advance. (That’s 205,920 minutes until Justin Fields).

So now we know that Trevor Lawrence and Urban Meyer will start their season on Sept. 12 against the Houston Texans. That will be known, though, as Tim Tebow Day, when he makes his first catch from Lawrence. On Oct. 3, at night, we’ll get to see New England against Tampa Bay and a big hug between Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. On Sept. 12, the season opener, it’ll be the New Orleans Saints and new quarterback Aaron Rodgers against the Green Bay Packers.

I’m pretty sure. The NFL apparently doesn’t expect much buzz from Lawrence and Meyer (and Tebow), as Jacksonville got just one primetime game -- two on national TV -- and none on Monday Night Football.

The Packers got the max-allowed five national games, but those can always be flexed out if Jordan Love or Blake Bortles is the quarterback instead of Rodgers.

The Bears also got five national games, with four in primetime and one on Thanksgiving against Detroit.

Fields has managed to become one of the most anticipated players in the league, even though he was just the 11th pick in the draft and the fourth quarterback.

That’s because the Bears are in a major market and have gone so many decades without a real quarterback, not counting the 66 games when Jim McMahon was healthy in the 1980s. Even that was more than three decades ago. And McMahon made it to just one Pro Bowl.

Andy Dalton has been to three, but no one in Chicago is excited to see him.

The Bears signed Dalton in the offseason to be the starter and called him QB1. They then managed to get Fields and gave him jersey No. 1.

But the Bears got Dalton after they failed to get Deshaun Watson or Russell Wilson in a trade, and it appeared that they wouldn’t be able to get a decent quarterback to replace Mitch Trubisky. Meanwhile, general manager Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy were told that if the team doesn’t show progress in 2021, they’re out.

Pace had traded up to get Trubisky in the draft, picking him above Watson and Patrick Mahomes. Pace also mishandled the salary cap and had to dump top players from last year’s 8-8 team.

The only thing Bears fans wanted was a real quarterback. And they feel they have one now with Fields.

And the question debated nonstop in Chicago since the draft is whether to start Fields from Day One or to let him develop for a while behind Dalton. The unspoken fear is that the Bears will ruin another quarterback, as they did with Trubisky. And Cade McNown. And Rex Grossman.

And about a million others.

Nagy has not proven that he can develop a quarterback, and the Bears are going to start a rookie at left tackle to protect Fields and have just one top receiver.

But the answer is that Fields has to be the guy. Not Dalton. Bears fans aren’t going to accept Dalton. And as soon as Dalton makes a mistake, the patience will run out on Pace and Nagy.

What makes me so sure that Oct. 3 against Detroit will be it for Fields?

Well, the opener is at the Los Angeles Rams in a primetime game on national TV. The Rams have the best defense in the NFC, and that’s too much pressure for Fields. The Bears will lose.

Then they should beat Dalton’s old team, Cincinnati. And in Week 3, they’ll probably lose at Cleveland.

At that point, the Bears figure to be 1-2 with a home game against the lowly Lions. Angry fans. Lowly Lions. Clock ticking on Pace, Nagy.

And if they don’t put Fields in then, then they’re going to have to wait until the end of a killer stretch of Green Bay, at Tampa Bay, San Francisco and at Pittsburgh.

You can’t start him for the first time during any of that. And if you wait until after that, then the season, and Pace’s and Nagy’s jobs, might be as good as done. The Bears have to win big with Dalton or at least prove that Fields is the future.

The answer is just 12.3 million seconds away.

Written by
Greg earned the 2007 Peter Lisagor Award as the best sports columnist in the Chicagoland area for his work with the Chicago Sun-Times, where he started as a college football writer in 1997 before becoming a general columnist in 2003. He also won a Lisagor in 2016 for his commentary in and The Guardian. Couch penned articles and columns for Report, AOL Fanhouse, and The Sporting News and contributed as a writer and on-air analyst for and Fox Sports 1 TV. In his journalistic roles, Couch has covered the grandest stages of tennis from Wimbledon to the Olympics, among numerous national and international sporting spectacles. He also won first place awards from the U.S. Tennis Writers Association for his event coverage and column writing on the sport in 2010.