The Justin Fields era began Sunday afternoon.
Time – and medical evaluations – will determine if this continues without interruption.
The Bears rookie quarterback replaced injured Andy Dalton in the second quarter Sunday against the Bengals. In front of 60,840 fans at Soldier Field, the Bears led their defense to a 20-17 victory.
The Bears made it look easy – until they didn’t. After their defense clinched four straight wins, the Bears surrendered a 42-yard touchdown pass to Bengals wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase. Maintaining a 10-point lead with 3:50 remaining, Fields threw an interception at Bengals linebacker Logan Wilson, who returned the ball 18 yards to the 7 Bears. The Bengals scored in the next game on an assist to Tee Higgins. In one minute, they scored 14 points to reduce the lead to 20-17.
In third and -9 with 2:55 to go, Fields rushed to the left for a gain of 10 yards. The Bears have run out of time.
Fields’ numbers weren’t flashy: he finished 6-for-13 for 60 yards, one interception and a 27.7 passer rating. He ran eight times for 37 yards.
Dalton injured his left knee in the second quarter when he ran for 14 yards and ran out of bounds along the Bears sideline. He stumbled and took an awkward step.
Fields took over, handing the ball three times and returning the ball to the downs. Dalton went to the injury tent before returning for a four-man practice in which he was sacked and looked uncomfortable. He then went to the Bears locker room.
Fields was uneven in the first extended playing time of his career – which you would expect from a rookie – but the Bears put on a dominant defensive display until the victory. The Fields-led offense produced just two field goals in the fourth quarter, although it wasn’t helped when Allen Robinson gave up what would have been a fourth-quarter touchdown.
Dalton watched the second half from the sideline in uniform. It’s unclear how long he might be missing, but it’s fair to wonder if he’ll ever do it again for the Bears. Even if he remains absent for a few weeks, will the Bears want to slow the development of Fields by reassuring him?
If the Bears ‘defense plays the way it did for most of Sunday, the Bears will be happy to deal with Fields’ growing pains.
The defense threw a shutout in the first half. After relinquishing a field goal in the third quarter, the Bears ended four straight runs for the Bengals with take out.
They didn’t allow their first points until midway through the third quarter, when Kevin McPherson put in a 53-yard field goal to make it 7-3. The fact that they got points was a testament to the Bears’ stupidity. On the third and 16 of the Bengals’ 29, Burrow rushed to the left and ran safely out of bounds – and into the Bears sideline – without a win. Outside linebacker Robert Quinn hit him two steps after he went out of bounds. Rather than punt, the Bengals had 15 yards and a first down.
The Bears got their first takeaway of the season late in the third quarter, when safety Eddie Jackson forced a tee Higgins fumble over a 14-yard run. The ball rebounded in Tashaun Gipson’s arms and returned it 13 yards. After a rambling practice – Fields was called twice for a false start but showed his promise when he passed a pass to Darnell Mooney for 21 yards – the Bears scored the first and the goal on 8. David Montgomery had run for a loss of three, Fields ran six yards, then the rookie quarterback faltered before the snap for the false start flag. On the third and the goal of 10, he threw incomplete at Allen Robinson. Cairo Santos kicked a 28-yard field goal to climb 10-3 eight seconds into the fourth quarter.
The second takeaway came less than five minutes later, when linebacker Roquan Smith picked Burrow on thirds and 3s and sent him 53 yards down the left sideline for a touchdown. That sealed the game with 10:55 a.m. to go.
The Bears forced a takeout in their third straight practice when cornerback Jaylon Johnson picked Burrow two games later, giving them the ball to the Bengals 36. The fourth takeaway came when nose tackle Angelo Blackson caught a pass from linebacker Alec Ogletree and sent it back to the Bengals 9.
Fields’ best game of the game came midway through the third quarter. He fumbled when he was sacked on the third try. Bengals linebacker Logan Wilson raced for the ball in the 33rd Bears and could have returned it all the way for a touchdown. But Wilson breathed the scoop and Fields Army crawled over to the ball and covered it.
Dalton led the Bears to a touchdown in the game’s first practice, winning the goodwill of a fan base keen to cheer on Fields in the home opener. Dalton converted three thirds downs on the first drive. The last was a touchdown – in the third and fifth he found Robinson for 11 yards.