With 22 seconds left in the first half Saturday, Bears quarterback Justin Fields took a shotgun snap, looked left for his receiver running a post route and, seeing it covered, checked down left to running back Khalil Herbert. Herbert caught the ball a half-step outside the numbers and ducked out of bounds as he was hit.
It was just a gain of five yards, but it was quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo’s favorite play of the game. He told coach Matt Nagy as much.
“Him staying in rhythm with his feet, top down and not panicking,” Nagy said Monday. “And he simply . . . you watch his eyes, he went to the post route and then in his progression, he just slightly moved his eyes and his feet down to Herbert, gave it to him and trusted Herbert to get out of bounds.
“That’s not easy to do. A lot of guys will scramble, run around, waste four seconds and throw the ball away. He didn’t.”
Fields was putting into practice what he has learned in training camp: to trust his progressions. More importantly, he showed poise.
Bears players used different descriptions for how simply unaffected Fields seemed by his first serious NFL action — in a two-minute drill or otherwise — Saturday. He’ll need every ounce of that attitude to maneuver through the hype of the next three weeks.
Nagy was clear Monday that his quarterback plan remained unchanged even after Fields posted a 106.7 passer rating — the fifth-best number in the league — on Saturday. Andy Dalton remains the starter and Fields the second-stringer.
Nagy’s statement was unsurprising, prudent, and, at least for now, correct. Months of planning for Week 1 shouldn’t get scrapped because Fields fared well against second- and third-stringers on a team that didn’t game plan for him — or any other quarterback — in a preseason game.
Fields was thrilling, though, to a fan base desperate to have its first franchise quarterback in 71 years. Fields must feel their excitement — and impatience — even if he tries to avoid social media. Fans cheered him at Soldier Field on Saturday and a day later at Guaranteed Rate Field. The White Sox welcomed Bears rookies, who stood in a half-moon behind the mound as Fields threw out the first pitch before Sunday’s game against the Yankees.
The weight of expectations is a lot for Fields to carry, even if he never has taken a regular-season snap. His college experience — being a star at Ohio State garners more attention than, say, Mitch Trubisky’s one year starting at North Carolina — should make the transition to the pros easier.
His composure on the field — Fields said he was “as calm as I could be” Saturday — speaks well to his ability to navigate the circus off it.
For playing a game at Soldier Field for the first time, Fields “handled everything pretty well,” guard Cody Whitehair said.
The final drive of the first half brought that into clearer view.
“Just calm, cool, collected,” center Sam Mustipher said. “He did a great job of leading us down the field and marching our way down there for a field goal.”
Herbert, a fellow rookie, noticed.
So did everyone else inside Halas Hall.
“He didn’t seem nervous or anxious, just calmness in the huddle, calmness in the pocket,” Herbert said. “Doing what he needed to do, get the ball out of bounds, get the ball to people who he needs to get it to and then ultimately get in position to kick the field goal.”