CHICAGO – The Chicago Bears’ 20-17 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday had more storylines than Tom Brady has rings.
After embarrassing themselves a bit in their season opener vs. the Rams, the defense responded with one of its best performances since 2018.
Roquan Smith elevated himself beyond the conversations about the best linebackers in the game to someone who will be watched as the Defensive MVP race unfolds. Eddie Jackson also flashed back to 2018, and Robert Quinn played his best game as a Bear.
We saw flashes of what head coach Matt Nagy has suggested his offense could be until starting quarterback Andy Dalton went down with a bum left knee.
We got a thorough look at why Justin Fields, forced to take over for Dalton, isn’t yet ready to guide a veteran team hoping to compete for a playoff spot, and that was just the tip of the iceberg.
Although they dominated the first quarter, the Bears only led 7-0 a minute into the second quarter when Dalton scrambled 14 yards around right end but slipped out of bounds and came up gimpy.
From there on out the offense struggled through the rest of the half.
After the Bengals opened the third quarter with an 11-play, 43-yard drive to put their first three points on the board, it looked as if the Bears could be in trouble. They were after six-play drive that netted only eight yards – due mainly to a Germain Ifedi false start and an 11-yard loss on a Fields’ fumble that he did make a remarkable recovery on when it looked like Cincinnati’s Trey Hendrickson might be going the other way to the house.
That’s when Smith and company took over.
The Bears defense created turnovers on the Bengals next four consecutive possessions, starting with a fumble forced by Jackson and recovered by Tashaun Gipson, a Smith pick-six from 53-yards out and then back-to-back picks from Jaylon Johnson and Angelo Blackson.
On the day, the defense notched four sacks, nine pressures of Joe Burrow and six tackles for loss in a suffocating performance.
Unfortunately, however, Fields and company couldn’t do much with it, managing only two field goals off the Jackson fumble and Blackson pick.
After Fields threw an awful pick to Logan Wilson, who he just didn’t see, the Bengals needed only one play for Burrow to find Tee Higgins for a 7-yard score, making it 20-17 with 3:39 still to play.
Fields did throw a beautiful 35-yard dime to Allen Robinson that Robinson dropped in the end zone and a key 10-yard scramble on third-and-9 from his own 26 with 2:55 to play, which allowed the Bears to put the game away without giving the ball back to the Bengals.
But for the day Fields was a sad 6 of 13 for 60 yards with no TDs and a pick for a 27.7 passer rating. Other than the key 10-yard scramble, he totaled only 21 yards on nine carries.
Fields took two sacks on which he clearly held the ball too long and on several occasions defenders closed on him far quicker than he expected.
He looked like a rookie quarterback who’d never been asked to beat an NFL defense.
Fields was asked to grade himself following the win.
“I don’t think I’m pleased with how I played at all,” he said. “I think there’s a lot more in me that I have to show. That’s gonna come with time. I know it’s not gonna happen overnight, so I’m just gonna keep grinding, and no matter what happens I know I’m meant for this.
“I’m here for a reason, and I definitely think I can play better. I just think that this is the beginning.”
I am with the kid on that.
There was nothing Sunday to suggest he can’t or won’t be the future, and hopefully a franchise quarterback, but there was a lot more than we would like to show on how far away he may still be.
It looks like Fields now is the likely starter next Sunday in Cleveland.
How far he comes in a week will be fascinating to see.