Bears fans got their wish on Sunday as rookie Justin Fields got to play the majority of the Bears’ 20-17 victory over Cincinnati. Starting quarterback Andy Dalton suffered a knee injury in the second quarter and missed the entire second half.
The reviews were mixed, to say the least. While Fields once again showed his ability to navigate the pocket and pick up yards with his legs — 31 yards on 10 carries — his work in the passing game left a lot to be desired.
Let’s be clear, it is not easy for any backup quarterback to step into the middle of the game and immediately light up the scoreboard. Not for a veteran, and certainly not for a rookie either. So, I’m willing to cut Fields a little slack with my evaluation of his overall performance.
But if Fields proved anything, it was that head coach Matt Nagy was not out of his mind for easing the rookie into the game plan. For as talented as Fields is, he showed that he still needs to work his way into the flow of an NFL game.
Fields completed just 6 passes on 13 attempts (46%). He tossed an ill-advised pass late in the game that was picked off and led to a Bengals touchdown, drawing the score to within 3 points. He also fumbled the ball on a sack, which he fortunately recovered. Fields finished with just 60 passing yards and a 27.7 passer rating on the day.
Again, I want to make it clear that I don’t blame Fields for fumbling on the sack. Nor do I think it is completely his fault that he led the offense to just 6 second-half points. And I certainly can’t blame him for a perfectly thrown pass to Allen Robinson deep down the field that went right through the receiver’s arms for a should-have-been touchdown.
What I hope Fields’ performance does — although I have my doubts — is temper Bears fans’ expectations a little.
After all, for as good as I think Fields is now and will be in the future, he is not imperfect. He does and will make mistakes. He does not walk on water.
And for as unpopular an opinion as this might be, if Dalton is deemed healthy and is back at 100%, I think the veteran should get another start this week against a strong Browns defense.
Dalton looked solid in his limited action Sunday. He led the Bears on a 9-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to open the game. He completed 9 of 11 passes for just 56 yards and a touchdown pass to Allen Robinson, finishing with a 118.2 passer rating before exiting with the injury.
Now, who’s to say he’d have continued at that rate had he stayed in the game? Chances are that his completion percentage would have gone down and his efficiency would have taken a hit.
But what Dalton brings to the table that Fields might need some time to develop is an awareness for what opposing defenses are trying to do to stop him. That kind of feel for the game comes with experience, which is why I’m in favor of Nagy continuing to insert Fields throughout the game.
But are the Bears going to be able to live with the growing pains that inevitably come from a rookie starter?
I, of course, will support whoever Nagy chooses to start at quarterback. But my preference is the veteran at this point, if he is healthy.
Either way, the offense needs to continue its progression and score some more points. A week after scoring just 14 points against the Rams, the Bears put up just 20 in this one, and 7 of those points came from an interception return for a touchdown by Roquan Smith.
The Bears defense was most responsible for winning this game, just as they were most at fault for losing in Week 1. The defense got after Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, sacked him four times, and picked him off three times.
Three. Consecutive. Times.
That’s right, on three straight Burrow passes, the Bears intercepted the second-year signal-caller. I’ve never seen anything like that before.
It was good to see that unit rise to the occasion because there were alarm bells ringing non-stop after Week 1’s dismal performance. If the Bears are going to go anywhere this year, they’ll need more of what we saw in Week 2 than in Week 1. And when the team gets some healthy players back, the outlook will look even brighter.
The Bears will travel to Cleveland in Week 3 to take on a tough Browns defense and a very strong Browns run game. The Bears run defense held Joe Mixon to just 69 yards on 20 attempts this week, which is exactly the kind of effort they’ll need to defend against the duo of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield suffered a shoulder injury trying to make a tackle after an interception on Sunday. That will be something to monitor throughout the week.
After almost two full weeks, the Bears sit in first place in the NFC North at 1-1. They’ll be tied with one other team after the Lions and Packers play on Monday night. It’ll likely be the Packers, but after Week 1’s performance, you never can tell.