Expectations were naturally elevated, since this was going to be the debut of top pick Justin Fields, a player on whom many fans are heaping hopes of getting this team back into the upper echelon of the NFL elite.
That is an awful lot of hype and setting the bar at a very elevated level. Presumptive starter Andy Dalton played the first two series, completing two passes for 18 yards. Fields took over in the second quarter and the offense promptly moved backwards, ostensibly giving him a three-and-out. His second and third efforts fared no better as Justin tossed three straight incomplete passes on one attempted drive, and two fumbles and an incomplete on the subsequent drive.
The fourth try proved to be the charm (sort of) as Fields took the Bears from his own 23 down to the Dolphins 35 for 53-yard Cairo Santos field goal as the first half expired. The three points provided a much need lift going into halftime, since the Bears were slated to receive the second half kick.
Fields promptly took his team 77 yards, scrambling to his left for his first NFL touchdown. “They were playing man coverage, my man, Jesse [tight end James], he got tripped up,” observed Justin after the game. “I was looking to go to him. Of course I know my routes were coming my way back side but I knew they were in man coverage and knew nobody really had me. He went to the left and saw everybody gloved up, everybody covered, so started to run to the end zone and of course it was a touchdown.”
Matt Nagy was asked about Fields’ debut. “If you go back to the start of training camp and as when we drafted Justin and we had Andy in here and we had Nick, I’ve continued to say all we want to do is we want them to be the best quarterbacks they can be. Don’t worry about tomorrow. Don’t worry about next week, don’t worry about the future. Just worry about today. I thought that Justin did a great job of worrying about today and he played smart football. He made plays, and again like what you just said, it is preseason, and we all understand that there’s variables involved in all that. But at the same time, if you go back and look, is he doing what you want him to do, absolutely. It’s good because Andy and Nick or on the sideline helping him, Flip helping him on the sideline. And that scramble for the touchdown, you feel the vibe, you feel the energy and it was pretty cool.”
Dalton address the issue of having had a lot of different lineman vying for spots and playing time due to Covid and injuries. “There have been a lot of guys that have been put in a lot of different positions because of everything that’s gone up front. But I thought our guys did a great job today, great job in protection, great job in the run game, giving our guys opportunities to make a couple big plays. We had a couple big chunk runs that were big, explosive plays that helped us win this game. Yeah, I thought they did a great job.”
Dolphins coach Brian Flores was asked his impressions of Fields. “He’s a good player,” replied Flores. “I know he’s had a great college career, and just seeing him throughout the course of the week, I thought he did a lot of good things, obviously mobile. Somebody you gotta be aware of setting the edge and keeping contained and not letting him out of the pocket. I thought he threw the ball well on the run today, and really this entire week. He’s a good kid. He’s got a good head on his shoulders. If he keeps working the way he’s working, or the way I saw him work these two days; I don’t want to speak for him or anyone with the Bears staff which I would say these joint practices, coach and I and his staff, they were incredible this week, welcoming us here. We got two good days of practice, which I think were very good for us. We got a lot of great work. So I just want to say thank you to them for being so welcoming to us. But specific to your question on Fields, if he continues to work the way I saw him work this week, I think he’ll be just fine.”
Fields is seemingly doing a good job of keeping this one game in perspective. “I think when you look too far in the future, you start worrying about way too much stuff. You start thinking too much in your head. Alex Smith came and talked to the team and told us just to worry about to today and just to live. That was his main point, just to live, because of course him coming off that injury, you know he was just telling us how grateful he was to get back on the field and play. He played every game like it was his last game and that’s what I was doing all day. Today, last night, my mindset was going out there and no matter what happened, just play for today and kind of just try to act like it was my last time on the field and just take every opportunity and make the most of it.”
Reactions from around town
Patrick Finley, Chicago Sun-Times: Fields made the Bears relevant on a live NFL Network broadcast that was only put in place because of the national interest in him. For the 43,235 fans at the lakefront, it was enough to dream on — even if it was against the Dolphins’ second- and third-stringers.
Coleen Kane, Chicago Tribune: Fields’ NFL preseason debut didn’t get off to a pretty start, but the first-round draft pick did enough by the time he left the game to keep the hype train rolling.
Sean Hammond, Daily Herald: As bad as the first three possessions were, the next three were the exact opposite. They gave Bears fans plenty of hope for the future. It was an impressive couple of possessions from the rookie, and it was enough to get the NFL world talking about the Bears. The game was broadcast nationwide on the NFL Network and was the only game during the noon time slot Saturday. Fields said he felt “as calm as could be” heading into the game.
Hub Arkush, Pro Football Weekly: It’s not just that these practice games don’t count that makes them so frustrating. It’s almost impossible to know what can be completely ignored, and a lot of it can, and what can or should be taken seriously. What was real Saturday regardless of circumstances was how easy it was to see why Chicago is so excited and so much of the NFL is so intrigued by Fields.
Jason Lieser, Chicago Sun-Times: This collection of offensive weapons is talented, fast and reliable. Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace have gradually sifted out anyone who doesn’t check all three boxes. And the majority of that core is young enough to set up rookie quarterback Justin Fields for success well beyond this season. This roster, however, is one of his choosing, and it looks strong. There’s no doubt Nagy has improved Pace’s judgment when it comes to picking players on offense. But now that he’s gotten everything he wanted, he needs to show he can do something with it.
Dan Wiederer, Chicago Tribune: The energy he is creating continues to grow and might wash Andy Dalton out of his current starting role sooner than the Bears originally had planned. That was hardly a big enough sample size to draw any grand conclusions. Dalton still has the inside track to open the season as the starter with his experience and knowledge providing a steadiness that rookies typically can’t supply. But the idea of Fields spending the entirety of this fall on the sideline seems more preposterous with each passing day.