CHICAGO – Matt Nagy and Ryan Pace have planned for months and months. Sometimes, plans simply go awry.
The Bears had no choice but to roll with rookie quarterback Justin Fields on Sunday after starter Andy Dalton suffered a knee injury. With a lot of help from four takeaways by the Bears defense, Fields helped the Bears hold on for a 20-17 victory over the Bengals at Soldier Field.
“I played well enough to get the win, of course, but I think there’s a lot of room for me to improve,” Fields said. “I’m just going to watch the film and see what I need to get better.”
Fields finished the game 6-for-13 passing for 60 yards with one interception. He also ran for 31 yards on 10 carries.
The Bears always knew there might be a possibility that they would be forced to play Fields. Injuries happen in the NFL, particularly at quarterback, where a player is asked to stand in the pocket and hope he doesn’t get clobbered. The Bears have been prepping Fields for this moment.
In practice, when Dalton is working with the first-team offense, Fields repeats the play calls back to quarterback coach John DeFilippo. Later, after practice, they’ll run through those same plays together, albeit without a defense.
It’s too early to know what Dalton’s status will be for next week. It’s possible Fields could be thrust into the action again.
“I’ll be prepared,” Fields said. “I’m going to do the same thing that I did this past week.”
Fields’ stat line wasn’t impressive Sunday, but the tape tells a much deeper story. There were, of course, good plays and bad.
A late interception gave the Bengals life and certainly made things interesting. It didn’t cost the Bears the game, but it could have.
Bengals linebacker Logan Wilson faked a blitz, then dropped back into coverage. Fields simply didn’t see him until it was too late. It’s an interception that simply can’t happen with a 10-point lead in the final minutes of the game.
“They popped out the linebackers right where I was supposed to throw the ball,” Fields said. “So I really can’t do anything about that.”
The Bengals set up shop inside at the 7-yard line and scored an easy touchdown moments later.
Let’s contrast the bad with the good, however. Arguably Fields’ best play of the game was a scramble on the next possession after the interception. The Bears needed to move the chains to lock up a win.
On third-and-9 at their own 26 yard line, Fields took off to his left and avoided pressure from a Bengals defensive lineman who tried to grab him from behind. He just slipped through the hole and ran for a first down to move the chains.
“Nobody was really open,” Fields said. “And then I saw a big, wide hole open, and I know first down wins the game. The left end grabbed me a little bit, but I just broke the tackle, tried to stay in bounds.”
Allen Robinson’s drop
With just under 10 minutes remaining in the game, and with the Bears leading, 17-3, Fields nearly had his first NFL touchdown pass on what would’ve been a 35-yard touchdown. Unfortunately, the ball slipped right through receiver Allen Robinson’s hands.
Fields chucked a ball deep down the left side. The throw landed just beyond the goal line and maybe was a touch – the slimmest of touches – behind Robinson, but it still should’ve been caught. Fields threw about as good a deep ball as a receiver can ask for, and certainly better than anything Dalton’s thrown so far.
Fields’ fumble, and subsequent recovery
Rewinding to the third quarter, Bengals defensive end Trey Hendrickson sacked Fields and knocked out the ball for a fumble. Fields had only one hand on the ball, which is certainly something he’ll learn from.
It was a negative play, but it turned into a positive. Fields leaped off the ground and snatched the ball back as linebacker Logan Wilson was reaching down to scoop it up. It would’ve been an easy scoop and score.
“I was just trying to get to the ball,” Fields said. “That was definitely going to be a touchdown if I didn’t get it. That was just pure effort. I was just trying to do my part and help my team win.”