The Justin Fields Era started Sunday afternoon.
Time — and medical evaluations — will determine if it continues uninterrupted.
The Bears’ rookie quarterback replaced an injured Andy Dalton in the second quarter Sunday against the Bengals. In front of 60,840 fans at Soldier Field, the Bears rode their defense to a 20-17 win.
Bears coach Matt Nagy said afterward that he didn’t believe Dalton had a torn anterior cruciate ligament, which would have ruled him out for the rest of the season. His knee felt more sore as he stood on the sideline in the second half.
The Bears made it look easy — until they didn’t. After their defense landed four-straight takeaways, the Bears gave up a 42-yard touchdown pass to Bengals receiver Ja’Marr Chase. Nursing a 10-point lead with 3:50 to play, Fields threw an interception to Bengals linebacker Logan Wilson, who returned the ball 18 yards to the Bears’ 7. The Bengals scored on the next play on a pass to Tee Higgins. Within one minute’s time, they scored 14 points to cut the lead to 20-17.
On third-and-9 with 2:55 to play, though, Fields scrambled left for a 10-yard gain. The Bears ran the clock out.
Fields’ numbers weren’t flashy: he finished 6-for-13 for 60 yards, one interception and a 27.7 passer rating. He ran eight times for 37 yards.
Dalton hurt his left knee in the second quarter when he scrambled for 14 yards and ran out of bounds along the Bears sideline. He tripped and stepped awkwardly.
Fields took over, handing the ball off three times and turning the ball over on downs. Dalton went to the injury tent before returning for a four-play drive in which he was sacked and looked uncomfortable. He then went to the Bears’ locker room.
Fields was uneven in the first extended playing time of his career — which is to be expected from a rookie — but the Bears rode a dominant defensive showing to the win. The Fields-led offense produced only two fourth-quarter field goals, though he wasn’t helped when Allen Robinson dropped what would have been a fourth-quarter touchdown.
Dalton watched the second half from the sideline in uniform. It’s unclear how much time he could miss, but it’s fair to wonder if he’ll ever start again for the Bears. Even if he sits out for a few weeks, would the Bears want to stall Fields’ development by sitting him back down?
If the Bears defense plays the way it did for most of Sunday, though, the Bears will happily deal with Fields’ growing pains.
The defense pitched a first-half shutout. After giving up a field goal in the third quarter, the Bears ended four-straight Bengals drives with takeaways.
They didn’t give up their first points until midway through the third quarter, when Kevin McPherson made a 53-yard field goal to make the score 7-3. That they got any points at all was a testament to the Bears’ stupidity. On third-and-16 from the Bengals’ 29, Burrow scrambled left and ran harmlessly out of bounds — and into the Bears sideline — for no gain. Outside linebacker Robert Quinn bumped him two steps after he ran out of bounds. Rather than punting, the Bengals had 15 yards and a first down.
The Bears got their first takeaway of the season late in the third quarter, when safety Eddie Jackson forced a Tee Higgins fumble on a 14-yard completion. The ball bounced into Tashaun Gipson’s arms and he returned it 13 yards. After a disjointed drive — Fields was twice called for a false start but showed his promise when he zipped a pass to Darnell Mooney for 21 yards — the Bears had first-and-goal at the 8. David Montgomery ran for a loss of three, Fields scrambled for six yards and then the rookie quarterback flinched before the snap for the false start flag. On third-and-goal from the 10, he threw incomplete to Allen Robinson. Cairo Santos kicked a 28-yard field goal to go up 10-3 eight seconds into the fourth quarter.
The second takeaway came less than five minutes later, when linebacker Roquan Smith picked Burrow on third-and-3 and returned it 53 yards down the left sideline for a touchdown. That sealed the game with 10:55 to play.
The Bears forced a takeaway on their third consecutive drive when cornerback Jaylon Johnson picked Burrow two plays later, giving them the ball at the Bengals 36. The fourth takeaway came when nose tackle Angelo Blackson caught a pass tipped by linebacker Alec Ogletree and returned it to the Bengals’ 9.
Fields’ best play of the game came midway through the third quarter. He fumbled when he was sacked on third down. Bengals linebacker Logan Wilson ran to scoop up the ball at the Bears’ 33 and could have returned it all the way for a touchdown. But Wilson whiffed on the scoop and Fields Army-crawled to the ball and covered it up.
Dalton marched the Bears to a touchdown on the first drive of the game, earning some goodwill from a fan base eager to cheer Fields in the home opener. Dalton converted three third downs in the first drive. The last one was a touchdown — on third-and-5, he found Robinson for a 11-yard score.