Bears rookie quarterback Justin Fields rolled right, looked back across the field and saw tight end Jesse James with no one around him. He stopped and flicked the ball 24 yards in the air toward James, who was so open when he caught the ball in the third quarter Saturday that he moonwalked six yards into the end zone.
Bears fans, watching a game at Soldier Field for the first time in 601 days, roared with approval at the 30-yard touchdown pass.
So did Lakers star LeBron James.
‘‘Justin Fields is so SPECIAL man!!’’ he tweeted a minute later. ‘‘Keep going Young [king].’’
The basketball great — a lifelong fan of Ohio State, where Fields starred before the Bears drafted him — used a crown emoji instead of the word ‘‘king.’’ The game Saturday wasn’t a coronation, though; it was merely a 20-13 preseason victory against the Dolphins at Soldier Field.
Justin Fields is so SPECIAL man!! Keep going Young— LeBron James (@KingJames) August 14, 2021
Still, 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.
‘‘Everybody here is super-excited about the way that he played today,’’ Bears coach Matt Nagy said. ‘‘And we all want the same thing. We understand the buzz. We understand the excitement. That’s why we drafted him.’’
The touchdown pass will lead Fields’ highlight reel, followed closely by the eight-yard scoring run in which he looked left, saw his tight end fall down, stepped behind rushing linebacker Tyshun Render like a boxer avoiding a punch and sprinted left for a score.
‘‘He’s a natural,’’ said receiver Rodney Adams, who led the Bears with four catches for 57 yards. ‘‘He’s a leader. He commanded the huddle like he was supposed to. He came out there and made plays. That’s what they brought him here for. It showed.’’
What will be forgotten — but shouldn’t — were Fields’ struggles to that point. In his first nine plays, the Bears gained a total of one yard.
Fields’ first drive was short-circuited by back-to-back false-start penalties — welcome to the Bears, kid — and his second featured three consecutive incompletions.
The third possession was borderline disastrous. On first down, center Sam Mustipher snapped a ground ball to Fields for a loss of two yards. After Fields threw an incompletion, he decided to roll left on third-and-12. Rather than run out of bounds, he ran toward cornerback Nik Needham and, just before he was hit, turned his back. Fields fumbled. The Bears were lucky the ball rolled out of bounds.
The play was all-too-similar to the hit Fields took in the College Football Playoff semifinals against Clemson — and lamented during training camp.
Was the game too fast for Fields?
‘‘It was actually kind of slow to me,’’ he said.
Did he have jitters?
‘‘Surprisingly, no,’’ he said. ‘‘I was as calm as could be.’’
When the Bears got the ball back at their own 23 with 45 seconds left in the first half, they decided to let Fields throw against soft coverage. That did the trick to get him unstuck. After guiding the Bears to their initial first down of the game, Fields marched them a total of 42 yards in seven plays to set up a 53-yard field goal by Cairo Santos.
That momentum carried through the halftime break. Fields told his teammates to think back to how they played in joint practices Wednesday and Thursday against the Dolphins. Fields dominated the red-zone portion of practice Thursday.
‘‘I knew our offense could put up points on them,’’ he said. ‘‘I was trying to tell those guys to take it back to practice and execute.’’
It took Fields eight plays to drive the Bears 77 yards before he scored on a touchdown run to start the second half. The next drive, which covered 70 yards in seven plays, ended in his touchdown pass to Jesse James.
His final drive was a three-and-out that started at the Bears’ 2 and ended 14 seconds into the fourth quarter. Fields sat down after completing 14 of 20 passes for 142 yards and running five times for 33 yards. Playing behind a makeshift offensive line, he was hit only once.
Andy Dalton, whom Nagy anointed the starter months ago, was uninspiring. He completed 2 of 4 passes for 18 yards and handed off twice in two possessions. After replacing Fields, third-stringer Nick Foles was booed after his second play and again after his third — both incompletions — by fans who didn’t have the chance to do so last season.
One man was cheering Fields, however. The rookie smiled when told of it.
Fields never has met LeBron James but said Saturday was the second time he had gotten praise from him on Twitter, the other being the Clemson game. He has admired him since he was 6 years old and had a poster of him in his room as a boy.
‘‘It’s awesome for a prestigious athlete like that to give me a shout-out,’’ Fields said. ‘‘Definitely awesome. For sure.’’