Justin Fields’ growth in Bears’ win over the Lions more than justifies another startPatrick Finleyon October 3, 2021 at 8:02 pm

Justin Fields drops back against the Lions on Sunday. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

The Bears beat the Lions 24-14 at Soldier Field on Sunday.

Darnell Mooney lined up tight right and ran an out-and-up route with about two minutes to play in the first quarter Sunday. Rookie quarterback Justin Fields dropped back, put his right heel down at the Bears’ 2-yard line, stepped and threw.

In doing so, he looked unlike any Bears quarterback of recent vintage — and far more like what Bears fans were expecting when the team laid a historically dispiriting dud last week.

With the help of improved play-calling from coordinator Bill Lazor — who took over those duties from head coach Matt Nagy — plus strong defense and a hapless Lions opponent, Fields got the Bears back Sunday. They never trailed in a 24-14 win Sunday at Soldier Field.

Fields also made a case — somewhere between strong or undeniable — to keep the starting job regardless of when Andy Dalton returns from a bone bruise in his right knee.

His numbers weren’t gaudy — he went 11-for-17 for 209 yards — but he was special. He showed enough growth between last week and Sunday that the Bears can dream on what his next start will look like against the Raiders. Or at least they should.

With Fields quarterbacking the Bears against the Bengals and Browns — a total of seven quarters — the Bears gained about 5 1/2 feet per play. Sunday, the Bears averaged almost four times as much per play — 6.54 yards, and that includes two kneeldowns at the end of the game.

Fields’ 64-yard completion to Mooney, who had split the Lions’ safety and cornerback, was the longest Bears completion in almost three years. And even that one comes with an asterisk: Tarik Cohen’s 70-yard touchdown reception against the Jets on Oct. 18, 2018, was a screen pass that went only two yards in the air.

Later, he dropped a gorgeous 21-yard teardrop pass into Mooney’s arms along the right sideline. Toward the end of the third quarter, Allen Robinson ran all the way across the field and caught a pass along the same sideline for 27.

Fields didn’t score himself, but he led the Bears to an opening touchdown drive of 75 yards after the Bears won the coin toss and wanted the ball. His second possession went 89 net yards — aided by the deep ball to Mooney — and wound up in the end zone. The Bears went 77 yards to score on their first possession of the third quarter, too, to go ahead 21-0.

Running back David Montgomery scored two rushing touchdowns and gained 106 yards on 23 carries before suffering a left knee injury in the fourth quarter. He was helped to the locker room and almost immediately ruled out.

The Lions got inside the Bears’ 10 three times in the first half, but came away with zero points — they sandwiched two fumbles around a turnover on downs. They punted at the end of the half after getting the ball when Fields’ third-down slant pass was tipped and intercepted by cornerback Amani Oruwariye.

Entering Sunday’s games, five rookie quarterbacks had started a game. They were 1-11 combined — with the one win, by the Patriots against the Jets, coming when one rookie faced another. Fields, then, became the first rookie quarterback this season to beat a team quarterbacked by a veteran.

Next week, the Bears should give him chance to do it again.

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