Detroit Lions will never take leap until they get rid of Jared Goff, find their Justin Fields

Detroit Free Press

From the first play to the last, it was apparent Justin Fields was by far the best player on either team Sunday at Soldier Field.

From his opening 28-yard rush to his 1-yard escape-routine touchdown run to his 67-yard fourth-quarter scoring scramble, the Chicago Bears constantly punctured the Detroit Lions’ defense and punctuated the same statement he made every time he touched the ball: I am the best player here and I dare anyone to try to stop me.

It was undeniable watching Fields’ speed, skill and smarts as he used the run-pass-option to dice up the Lions on his way to four touchdowns, two with his feet and two with his arm.

But more important than being the best player on either side of the Lions’ 31-30 victory, Fields was by far the best quarterback Sunday and miles beyond the capabilities of Jared Goff.

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What might be lost in the euphoria of the Lions’ first road win and first winning streak of Dan Campbell’s tenure is that the Lions won because they were the better team, but not because they had the better quarterback. They won because the Bears are a mess just about everywhere but quarterback. They won because the Bears were sloppy and undisciplined and their kicker missed an extra-point attempt.

In time, the Bears will fix some of these problems. In time, Fields will give them a ceiling we can only guess at. Lamar Jackson? Josh Allen? Patrick Mahomes? Possibly. He’s only in his second season and in his first as a full-time starter and he already looks like he’s taken big steps moving beyond just understanding his offense and now learning how opposing defenses think and work.

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Give Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn full credit for constructing a bend-don’t-break game plan and limiting the damage Fields inflicted. Because that’s what he was: a damage-producing weapon the Lions had to respect all game.

The Lions were smart not to go as basic as using one player as a spy to contain Fields’ potential runs. They committed several, which was apparent on Fields’ longest pass of the day: a 50-yarder to tight end Cole Kmet. Rookie safety Kerby Joseph appeared to make the key mistake in coverage, but that coverage was partially dictated by Fields drawing three defenders’ attention on the play-action pass.

“That quarterback now is — it’s everything we talked about,” Campbell told reporters after Sunday’s game. “And it just, man, you can play perfect and play the game you want to play and if you just let him out four plays, it will kill you. It could be four touchdowns.”

All week, the Lions preached containment against Fields. But without actually facing a player of Fields’ dynamic capability, there was a limit to the Lions’ preparation because how do you prepare to harness a unicorn without actually having a unicorn to practice with?

“Certainly we don’t have that player,” Campbell said, “that type of player at our position to give them that scout look, jus the speed. You know, I mean, the first play out of the gate, you know, he runs the read (option) run and he’s gone for 25, 30 (yards) and (Julian Okwara’s) like, ‘Whoa!’ ”

Whoa, indeed.

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Even when the Lions had Matthew Stafford at his best, how many opposing defenses were terrified of his capabilities? How many said “whoa”?

If the Lions are ever going to be anything more than a middling team, they need this type of dynamic player. They need their Fields, their Allen, their Jackson or Mahomes. Offensive coordinator Ben Johnson has shown great promise and creativity as a play-caller. Just imagine what he could do with a dual-threat quarterback.

It was telling that even though Goff had a good game — 19 of 26 for 236 yards for one touchdown and a 113.6 passer rating, plus a fortunate call that negated an interception — he looked like the junior-varsity version of Fields as a slow-footed throwback to a pocket-passing era we can all see is ending.

It was telling, and maybe a little sad, that no reporter in Chicago asked a question about Goff. Imagine that. No one asks about the quarterback after back-to-back wins. So Campbell brought up his often-criticized QB all by himself.

“I thought Goff threw the ball well today,” he said. “It wasn’t perfect all the time but, man, I thought he was feeling it. I thought he made some pivotal throws when we absolutely needed ’em. I thought he played quarterback for us very well.”

So Goff gets a gold star on his lunchbox. Swell.

What the Lions need is the courage to draft their Fields next year. Even as their record rises and the draft position falls, the Lions will have enough capital to find a quality quarterback. Allen was taken seventh after the Bills traded up from 12th to get him. Mahomes went 10th after the Chiefs moved up from 27th to get him. Fields was 11th after the Bears traded up from 20th. Jackson was 32nd after the Ravens traded up. None of these players was the first, or sometimes even second or third quarterback taken in his draft class.

This is why general manager Brad Holmes needs to have the courage and conviction to find his dynamic, dual-threat quarterback in April, even if Bryce Young and C.J. Stroud are gone. Because this is what he was brought here to do. This is what any GM is brought in to do, make difficult, franchise-altering moves.

The Lions will probably finish with a top-10 pick, but even if they fall just outside that, Holmes can’t convince himself that Goff is good enough to win with and wait around until he sees a burning bush and Mel Kiper Jr. appears unto him and reveals a can’t-miss quarterback prospect with the No. 1 pick.

The Lions’ defense still needs fixing, partly because Holmes has missed on key draft picks and some high-profile free agents. But there’s no other position that matters more than quarterback. Even though the Lions have taken big steps with wins over the Packers and the Bears the past two weeks, they only needed to look across the field Sunday to realize that steps are important but they’ll never truly make a leap until they find their dynamic, dual-threat quarterback.

Contact Carlos Monarrez: cmonarrez@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.

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