Justin Fields was trending on Twitter the other day, and my duty as a Chicago sports columnist and as someone concerned with topics that most affect mankind compelled me to investigate further.
The first tweet, which included a video, read: Justin Fields completes a 5-yard out route. Bears fans: The footage was a riotous scene of fans storming a basketball court and mobbing the guy who had just hit a game-winning shot.
Nicely played. Possibly even totally accurate. But it’s very difficult to blame Bears fans for being out of control over the mere prospect of a talented rookie quarterback actually turning out to be, you know, good. And, truth be told, if there were a few media members rushing the court in our tweeter’s mocking video, it would have added further realism. There isn’t enough money in the world to make up for the pain and suffering sportswriters have endured while covering the Bears’ quarterback follies for the past 70 years.
So Saturday arrived, and to pretend that it was a day like any other would be silly. And I kind of feel silly writing that. But Fields, the Bears’ 2021 first-round draft pick, was making his NFL preseason debut. Would jubilant fans rush onto the Soldier Field grass to carry him off the field afterward?
It would have been hopeless. They never would have caught him.
The promise of Fields was on full display Saturday afternoon, even if it took awhile to arrive. One long run by the former Ohio State star was enough to further excite a fan base that, trust me, didn’t need any more caffeine. That run, a 21-yarder in the third quarter, had the effect of making the Dolphins’ defense very, very conscious of Fields’ ridiculous speed. And that awareness opened up the Bears’ pass game. Let him out the pocket at your own peril. Two plays later, Fields connected with a wide-open Jesse James on a 30-yard touchdown play.
And there it was. Everything every Bears fan had been living for since the April draft was right there. Two plays. It was more than enough.
Did it come against Miami’s second- and third-stringers? Listen, I know when to seek shelter from a tornado of hype and hope. What I can tell you, from the safety of my basement and far away from any windows, is that Fields looked good against the people on the other side of the line Saturday in a 20-13 victory.
By the way, putative Bears starting quarterback Andy Dalton also played in the game.
Fields completed 14 of 20 passes for 142 yards and a touchdown. He averaged 7.1 yards an attempt. He had a passer rating of 106.7. He scrambled for a touchdown. He had no interceptions but he did fumble once. All of that might strike some as being reminiscent of a good Mitch Trubisky outing but … that third-quarter run. Fields made Miami defenders look like they were standing still, and he didn’t seem to be running all that hard. Trubisky couldn’t do that, nor could many other human beings.
What was the speed of an NFL game like, Justin?
“It was actually kind of slow to me, to be honest,” he said.
That sound? It’s the rest of the league gulping.
It’s only a matter of time before Fields is the starter. The question is when coach Matt Nagy caves in to the inevitable. I can’t explain why every national TV analyst so very much wants Fields to start the Bears’ first regular-season game. I only know that they do and that, if Nagy doesn’t have the kid in the lineup against the Rams on Sept. 12, there’s a good chance he’ll be relieved of a limb, possibly two.
“I totally, totally understand all the buzz, all the excitement, and we feel it, too,” Nagy said.
Just know that there could be rocky moments ahead. There certainly were in the first half Saturday. When Fields went into the game with 12 minutes, 11 seconds left in the second quarter, Bears fans gave him a standing ovation. Let the record show that his first completion was for 1 yard to Damiere Byrd. That was followed by two false starts by teammates, a 9-yard completion and a punt. If you were looking for rhythm, you were in for a tough slog.
On Fields’ second series, he had a pass batted down at the line of scrimmage and two others deflected by defenders.
The third series started with a botched snap out of the shotgun, a near interception after a receiver tripped and a Fields fumble out of bounds after a 6-yard scramble.
Right after that, I tweeted a very solemn um, which, translated, meant, Haven’t we seen this before? You know, nudge, nudge, from Trubisky? But that was negative thinking, perhaps brought on by the lugging of the past.
The fourth series was a hint of things to come. The Bears got the ball back with 40 seconds left in the first half, meaning Fields would be able to work on his two-minute skills. A pass completion got the Bears a first down on second-and-3, which is noteworthy only if you think an offense getting its initial first down of the game just before halftime is noteworthy. But Fields had two more completions, including a 15-yarder, to help set up a field goal. Pretty good stuff. And he seemed profoundly calm, probably because he was.
“I was calm as can be,” he said.
Eventually, there was a seven-play, 70-yard touchdown drive, which included the 21-yard run that carried so much freight.
If star-struck fans thought they were gazing upon the Second Coming of John Elway, it’s understandable and predictable. Historically, the Bears and quarterbacks haven’t been what would be called “a good match.” Maybe things are changing.