On third-and-9 with the Chicago Bears clinging to a three-point lead Sunday afternoon at Soldier Field, Justin Fields saw “a big, wide hole” open to his left.
The rookie quarterback took off, slid through the grasp of Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Trey Hendrickson and beat defensive end Cam Sample to the first-down marker with 2 minutes, 45 seconds to play. David Montgomery followed with a pair of runs to gain another first down, and the Bears held on for a 20-17 victory.
Fields will have a lot to correct from his first extended NFL outing after he played the entire second half because of Andy Dalton’s knee injury, which still is being evaluated. Fields completed 6 of 13 passes for 60 yards, rushed 10 times for 31 yards and threw a fourth-quarter interception that the Bengals turned into a touchdown one play later.
But in a game that got a little too close for comfort at the end, that 10-yard scramble helped Fields finish on a high note and give the Bears (1-1) their first win of the season.
“I don’t think I’m pleased with how I played at all,” Fields said. “There’s a lot more in me that I have to show. That’s going to come with time. I know it’s not going to happen overnight, so I’m just going to keep grinding and no matter what happens, I know I’m meant for this. I’m meant to be here.”
The big question is whether Fields will have an opportunity to show more of what he can do in Week 3 in Cleveland.
Bears coach Matt Nagy said he didn’t think Dalton tore his ACL but couldn’t say for sure until further tests were performed. Dalton was healthy enough that Nagy said he would have been able to play in an emergency in the second half.
Nagy also wouldn’t say if Dalton would be the starter moving forward if he’s healthy. The Bears have long said they are starting Dalton so Fields can learn and develop behind him at the right pace.
“I’m not going to get into that,” Nagy said. “I’m not going to get into that.”
Dalton was moving the ball well before he was injured while hopping awkwardly out of bounds on a 14-yard scramble early in the second quarter. He led the Bears on a touchdown drive to open the game, hitting Allen Robinson with an 11-yard touchdown pass, and got them to the Bengals 37-yard line on the scramble on their second drive.
But he limped straight to the medical tent after he stood up from that scramble, and Fields entered for three plays, including a failed fourth-and-1 keeper. Dalton played in the next series, but Nagy said he noticed Dalton limping again after Bengals nose tackle D.J. Reader sacked him.
Fields, who spent the last two weeks operating the scout team in practice, made his debut in Week 1 with five plays against the Los Angeles Rams, but the Bears needed him full-time this time.
“It was crazy,” Fields said. “You’re constantly told: ‘Be ready, you never know what may happen’ — and it happened. … I think I was pretty prepared, but there were definitely mistakes made out there and I’m just going to go watch the film and learn from those mistakes.”
Along with a couple of missed connections in the end zone in the second half, Fields fumbled while being sacked on the Bears’ first drive of the third quarter, though he flung his body at the football to prevent the Bengals from scooping it up and scoring.
“That was definitely going to be a touchdown if I didn’t get it,” Fields said. “That was just pure effort. I was just trying to do my part and help my team win.”
He had a pair of false-start penalties on the Bears’ next drive, afterward saying the official told him he flinched. And he threw an interception when the Bengals showed a Cover-0 look but linebacker Logan Wilson dropped back to jump in front of a pass intended for Marquise Goodwin. The Bengals scored a touchdown on the next play to make it 20-17.
Nagy pointed to how Fields responded to that moment — coming through on the next drive with the 10-yard scramble to help close it out — as one of the reasons the Bears would feel OK if they decide to go with Fields moving forward.
“He’s worked really, really hard to get to this point,” Nagy said. “Even today, in that moment as a rookie, coming on in that situation — super calm, super cool. Even after the interception, when (Wilson) dropped in the zero look and made the play, he was very cool coming out there and trying to make a play.
“He’s done that his whole career. That doesn’t fluster him. That’s a strength that he has. We’ll see where everything goes and where it’s at. He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do and we feel good with him.”
If the Bears stick with Fields, he said he’ll be ready.
“I’ll be prepared,” Fields said. “I’m going to do the same thing that I did this past week, and if Andy can’t go, then I’ll be getting reps with the first-team offense, so I think I’ll even be more prepared for that than I was today.”
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