It could take a while for rookie quarterback Justin Fields to grow into what the Bears imagined when they traded up to draft him No. 11 overall.
That’s fine. It’s perfectly normal.
If Fields takes over for Andy Dalton, which seems likely heading into the game against the Browns on Sunday, it’s likely going to take several weeks before everything starts to click. In the meantime, the Bears are looking for signs of his potential and hoping he’ll avoid repeating mistakes.
Amid some struggles during the harrowing 20-17 win against the Bengals, Fields delivered flashes of the Bears’ future. Here’s a look at the best of them from Sunday:
Fields’ most distinct and valuable trait is his mobility, which can buy him time to keep looking downfield or allow him to bail out a failed play by taking off. When the game got dicey late, his speed saved the Bears.
They were at risk of handing the ball back to the Bengals for a chance to tie or win in the final two minutes when Fields took the snap out of the shotgun on third-and-nine at his own 26.
As the offensive line started faltering, Fields bolted from the pocket to his left. Defensive tackle Trey Hendrickson lunged and got both hands on him for what would’ve been a two-yard loss, but Fields charged out of the would-be tackle and got 10 yards to basically end the game. From there, with the Bengals out of timeouts, David Montgomery ran for six and four yards, then Fields ran out the clock with kneel-downs.
When nothing goes right, as has frequently been the case for the Bears the last two seasons, Fields’ speed can fix it. That’s why the Bears coveted him in the draft and that’s why it’s worth waiting out the rookie mistakes he made Sunday and will surely make again until he truly acclimates.
The Bengals cut the Bears’ lead to 7-3 with eight minutes left in the third quarter, and after Eddie Jackson’s “Peanut Punch” forced a fumble that Tashaun Gipson scooped up, the Bears desperately needed to cash in with points.
They took over at the Bengals’ 39-yard line — too far to try a field goal — and faced a third-and-13 from the 42 after Fields’ false start. Fields kept the drive going, though, by taking advantage of wide receiver Allen Robinson’s mismatch against cornerback Chidobe Awuzie.
He fired a quick pass to Robinson on the left sideline after Robinson’s cutback gave him three yards of separation, and Robinson expertly evaded Awuzie’s tackle to sprint for 13 yards and a first down.
The Bears were still on the outskirts of kicker Cairo Santos’ range, but Fields essentially secured points on the next play with a 21-yard pass to wide receiver Darnell Mooney.
On play-action, the offensive line — especially left tackle Jason Peters — gave Fields time, and he quickly saw Mooney beating the Bengals’ zone and getting a step ahead of safety Jessie Bates as he crossed from the right slot to the left sideline. Fields’ pass led Mooney just enough so that Bates didn’t have any shot at breaking it up.
While the Bears certainly would’ve preferred to get a touchdown out of that possession after reaching the 8-yard line on Mooney’s catch, getting points at all was a good start for Fields.
Fields’ ugly 27.7 passer rating — he completed 6 of 13 passes for 60 yards and had an interception — would’ve spiked to 84.8 had he hit on two long passes that Robinson and Mooney couldn’t catch.
Soldier Field roared as Fields sent one deep down the left sideline for Mooney on first-and-10 from his own 47-yard line, but Mooney could only get part of his right hand on the ball as it sailed past him. It was an A-plus throw to beat Bengals cornerback Eli Apple, but Mooney just couldn’t get to it.
“Is it a drop? I don’t know,” coach Matt Nagy said Monday. “It’s hard to say. It was a tough catch, but I’ve seen him make those catches.”
That play would’ve put the Bears in scoring range. Instead, they backpedaled and imploded on Fields’ lost fumble before punting on fourth-and-24.
The miss that hurt even more was another nice deep ball with 9:39 left.
On second-and-nine, Fields threw slightly behind Robinson as he raced ahead of Awuzie on the left sideline, but it was still deep enough to stay out of Awuzie’s reach. Robinson was just crossing the goal line as the ball slipped through both arms and bounced off his chest to the ground.
“It was a good throw,” Nagy said. “It’s never easy when you’ve got a corner on your back and he’s trying to swat at it. It’s one of those plays that I know A-Rob, 99 times out of 100, he’s going to make that play, so we’ll go right back to it and give him another shot.”