When the Bears won the coin toss Sunday, coach Matt Nagy did something he’d done only once before in 3 1/2 years: He chose to receive to start the game rather than the second half.
By going against the grain — 81% of coaches deferred between 2013 and 2020 — Nagy wanted to show his offensive players he believed in them after they gained 47 yards on 42 plays. He also wanted his defense to be able to play with the lead.
It was no surprise, then, that Nagy decided to go for it on fourth-and-one from the Bears’ own 47 on the first drive of the 24-14 win over the Lions. The Bears converted and, six plays later, scored.
“If you could wake up in the morning and say, ‘I wish this could happen on the first drive’ — that’s what happened,’ ” Nagy said after the game.
The Bears got what they wished for in rookie quarterback Justin Fields, too, who looked a lot better in his second start.
Fields made two big throws Sunday, producing two of the Bears’ three longest passes of the season.
He threw a “perfect ball” to Darnell Mooney for a 64-yard gain in the first quarter, Nagy said Monday. The receiver ran a skinny out-and-up route to steer clear of safety Will Harris, who crashed down toward the line of scrimmage.
Fields’ ability to read the safety qualified as progress. The Lions were disciplined Sunday, trying to confuse Fields by holding their two safeties in place during the rookie’s pre-snap read and bringing one down just as the ball was snapped.
“I thought he did a good job of understanding that post-snap,” Nagy said. “In Cleveland, it wasn’t always like that every snap. But I felt like for all of us it was more looking at the offense [in Cleveland] and looking at what was going on with the offensive players. . . .
“[On Sunday], there was a lot of looking at what’s going on with the defense. That’s a positive step right there for him.”
So was a gorgeous throw to receiver Allen Robinson on a corner route with about two minutes to play in the third quarter. Robinson caught the ball along the right sideline, between the cornerback and safety, and got both feet in.
After completing only one pass of 20-plus yards all year, the Bears had five Sunday.
“We need to get more of those,” Nagy said. “You don’t want to go on 12- and 13-play drives all the time. [Fields and Mooney] worked on that in practice, and then to have that come to fruition during the game, that’s a big play, it gets everybody going. And that’s the growth of a quarterback.”
On first down with about 10 minutes to play, Fields took the snap from under center and faked a handoff to Damien Williams. Tight end Cole Kmet, who had lined up to the right, pulled as though the team was running a counter play and set up to block outside linebacker Charles Harris along the left flank.
Harris spun, ducking inside Kmet, and sacked Fields from behind, popping the ball loose with his right arm. In the scramble for the fumble, center Sam Mustipher dove and knocked the ball back from the Bears’ 30 to the 20. Fields, who had been knocked down 12 yards downfield, stood up and ran back to fall on the ball. It was reminiscent of Week 2, when Fields army-crawled to recover a fumble.
“That’s two times now with Justin playing quarterback where there was a sack fumble and out of nowhere he comes to get the ball,” Nagy said. “That’s huge.”
Fields had Williams open in the right flat after the play fake and should have dumped the ball to him.
“The O-line did a great job,” Fields said. “They only let up one sack and that sack was on me. I should have checked the ball down in the flat faster than that. But the O-line played great.”
One week after giving up nine sacks — the second most in franchise history — the Bears allowed only one.
The Bears also cleared the way for rushers to gain 4.82 yards per carry, the 12th most in 54 games of the Nagy era. Credit new play-caller Bill Lazor, who used blocking tight ends Jesse James and J.P. Holtz for a combined 20 snaps. They combined to play one against the Browns.
“The tight ends . . . I thought did a good job of really saying, ‘You know what, we’re gonna get after it in the run game a little bit and we’re gonna be a big part of it,’ ” Nagy said.
After going 12-for-37 through three games, the Bears converted only 1 of 8 third downs Sunday. On the last play of the first quarter, Fields dropped back against a four-man rush and looked right. Seeing no one open, he rolled right.
A full 15 yards upfield from the dropped-back Fields, Harris spied the quarterback and sprinted toward him. He took a bad angle, though. Fields beat him to the corner and turned up the sideline, sprinting past the first down and gained 11 yards. The Bears would score on the next play. Fields only ran three times, but chose wisely to convert the third down.
The Bears now need to do it on other third downs.
“We’ve just got to keep getting better there,” Nagy said.