Browns’ Garrett is set to chase Bears’ Fields
Published 12:32 am Friday, December 15, 2023
CLEVELAND (AP) — Two years ago, Justin Fields made his NFL start on the road. It was far more miserable than memorable.
Blame Myles Garrett.
Chicago’s quarterback remembers nearly everything about his first game with the Bears in 2021 — the excitement, playing again in Ohio, the bruises.
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“And then of course getting sacked, too,” said Fields, who was sacked nine times — 4 1/2 by Garrett — and hit 15 times as the Bears were roughed up by the Browns 26-6. “Hopefully we can change that going back this weekend.”
On Sunday, Fields and the improving Bears (5-8) will visit Cleveland for a matchup against the Browns (8-5), who have been hammered by injuries and are leaning on veteran QB Joe Flacco to get them to the playoffs for just the second time since 2002.
Fields intends to stay upright more than he did in his first game against the Browns, and that will require his linemen, probably a tight end and maybe a running back or two keeping him safe from Garrett, a chore that’s easier said than done.
“He’s the best defensive player on the field, so you’ve got to know where he is at all times,” Fields said. “Every play.”
Garrett, who has been dealing with a shoulder injury, has been stuck on 13 sacks for three games. He left the field fuming last week after being blanked by the Jacksonville Jaguars, whom he felt got some favorable calls from the officials.
Afterward, Garrett called the officiating “a travesty,” and said the excessive grabbing and whatever else the Jags were doing left his shoulder looking like he’d been “scratched by a couple of wild feral cats.”
Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said he understood Garrett’s irritation at the lack of penalties and that he’s not worried about the All-Pro’s comments backfiring on him.
“He has respect for this game,” Stefanski said. “He’s frustrated. It’s something I talk to the officials about every week leading up to the game — is keeping an eye on the guys that are blocking him. It really comes with being a great player.
“We want the other teams to play within the rules, obviously, but it hasn’t slowed him down. He continues to play at a very high level.”
The Bears have witnessed Garrett at his pass-rushing best, and know they’ve got to do everything possible to protect Fields.
They don’t feel the officials are helping them in that department, either.
Chicago has been incensed that Fields, who often leaves the pocket on runs, has taken head-high hits that haven’t been penalized. On his first run last week, Fields took a shot while sliding from Detroit’s Jack Campbell, who was not flagged.
Nothing new there, according to the Bears.
“If it was us, they’d be throwing it,” Chicago safety Jaquan Brisker said. “There wouldn’t even be a reaction. They would just throw it. They should just treat him fair. He’s a quarterback. Now I know he’s 230 (pounds) and he’s running a 4.3 (second 40-yard dash) or so, but it doesn’t really matter.
“He’s still a quarterback and we have to protect him.”
The Browns keep limping along.
They lost five more key players to significant injuries this week. Offensive tackles Jedrick Wills Jr. and Dawand Jones were ruled out with knee injuries, safety Grant Delpit went on injured reserve with a groin injury and defensive linemen Maurice Hurst and Ogbo Okoronkwo suffered pectoral injuries.
As of Thursday, only Okoronkwo, who has 4 1/2 sacks, had a possibility of returning in the last four games.
The team hasn’t used excuses and won’t start.
“The game doesn’t care,” defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. “Obviously, the opponents don’t care, but the game is Sunday for 60 minutes and it doesn’t care if you’re playing rookies. It doesn’t care if you have injuries. It doesn’t care if you’re at full strength. And that’s our focus.”
Chicago comes in with back-to-back victories for the first time since 2021, when the Bears beat Seattle and the New York Giants in Weeks 16 and 17.
With a win over Cleveland, they would match their longest streak since a three-game run late in 2020.
“You’ve got to stay steady and you’ve got to have a foundation for what you believe,” coach Matt Eberflus said. “That’s just what we brought here to Chicago. It’s about staying right there in the moment, and stay present where your feet are. We’ve got to continue to do that.”
Though the Bears have the second-lowest sack total in the NFL with 21, they’ve been getting to the quarterback in recent weeks.
Credit the change to edge rusher Montez Sweat, who has 3 1/2 sacks in five games since being acquired from Washington in a trade. Chicago has 11 sacks since his arrival.
“A lot of guys are looking at him when he gets to the field,” said defensive tackle Justin Jones, who had 1 1/2 sacks last week. “The whole offense is looking to see where he’s at so it opens up a lot of opportunity for everybody else to go out there and make a lot of plays.
“Outside of his play, he’s a real leader, a vocal leader and he’s pulling the young guys along.”
Chicago’s defensive front took a major blow this week as defensive end Yannick Ngakoue — the team’s sack leader with four — was lost for the rest of the season with a broken ankle suffered in last week’s game.