Justin Fields' debut unfolded ideally for a preseason outing in the Chicago Bears' 20-13 win over the Miami Dolphins on Saturday.
After a wonky start, including a fumble the rookie was lucky not to lose, and three straight drives without a first down, Fields lit a spark.
Lessons were learned.
Fields had a couple of early passes that were nearly picked and didn't get down on a scramble that could have resulted in a turnover. Yet the rookie wasn't rattled.
"He did a great job of bouncing back, which is what he's always done," Bears head coach Matt Nagy said after the game.
Getting the ball with 40 seconds remaining in the first half, Fields took what the defense gave him, didn't panic, and drove the Bears into field goal range. The drive included the Bears' first first down of the entire half.
The confidence oozed from the rookie QB thereafter as he took command of the offense and torched Dolphins backup defenders with both his arm and legs, leading to 17 straight points to take the lead.
"It was actually kind of slow to me, to be honest," Fields told reporters following the game. "I think I was expecting it to be a little bit faster but practicing game speed, going at it with my teammates every day, of course, you know, we have a great defense so, me going against them every day, it definitely slowed the game up a little bit for me. So, I felt comfortable out there. Of course, I have room to grow, so I'm just gonna try to get better each and every day."
To open the second half, Fields showed off how his mobility will help make Nagy's offense multi-dimensional. His ability to escape the pocket, keep his eyes downfield and force defenders into tough choices will help move the chains. For example, on a third-and-9, Fields escaped pressure, rolled right, got the defender to commit, and dumped off a lob to Rodney Adams for a first down. After a nice 25-yard back shoulder to Adams, Fields capped the drive by escaping pressure and scampering for an 8-yard TD.
The young QB also provided our first throw-back TD of 2021 -- a beautifully designed play from Nagy that went for a 30-yard score from Fields to a wide-open Jesse James that put the Bears up for good in the third quarter.
In seven series, Fields went 14-of-20 passing for 142 yards and a TD for a 106.7 passer rating. He added five rushes for 33 yards and a score.
"If you go back to the start of training camp and as we drafted Justin and we have Andy in here and we have Nick [Foles], I've continued to say that all we want to do is we want them to be the best quarterbacks they can be," Nagy said. "Don't worry about tomorrow, don't worry about next week, don't worry about the future, just worry about today. And I thought that Justin did a great job of worrying about today and he played smart football. He made plays and again it is preseason and we all understand that there's variables involved in all that but at the same point and time if you go back and look, is he doing what you want him to do? Absolutely. It's good because Andy and Nick there on the sideline helping him, flip helping him on the sideline, he was just very reserved. And also that scramble for a touchdown, you feel the vibe, you feel the energy. It was pretty cool."
The rookie displayed plus arm strength and a willingness to get the ball to his checkdowns on quick reads. A couple of his early passes were on the money downfield but went incomplete against tight coverage from a sticky Dolphins secondary. A long sideline pass to Adams was on the money but wasn't converted. It was hard not to imagine it being a big play had Allen Robinson been on the other end of the target.
"I think when you look too far into the future, you start worrying about way too much stuff," Fields said in regard to concentrating on Saturday rather than winning the starting job. "You start thinking too much in your head. Alex Smith came in and talked to the team this week and kinda just told us to worry about today and just live. That was his main point was just to live because him coming off that injury, he was just telling us how grateful he was to get back on the field and play. He played every game like it was his last game and that's what I was doing all day today, all last night. My mindset was just to go out there, no matter what happened, just play for today and kind of just try to act like it was my last time on the field and just take every opportunity and make the most of it."
The excitement surrounding Fields won't abate following Saturday's performance.
Andy Dalton got the start as Nagy insists the veteran will be QB1 to open the year. In two drives, Dalton went 2-of-4 passing for 18 yards and didn't get a first down. Dalton didn't do anything bad, but he is who he is: a veteran pocket passer who isn't going to tip the field.
Fields is the juice.
The rookie opens up the entire offense, puts pressure on defenses and allows Nagy to be more creative. Unlikely the last iteration of the Bears offense with Mitchell Trubisky, Fields showed accuracy on the move and was on target on his few deep shots, even if he couldn't connect with backup receivers.
Nagy can maintain that Dalton is the starter until he's blue in the face. The veteran's staying power won't last.
Fields is the future. The future should be now. If it's not Week 1. It's Week 2. Week 3. The moment Dalton shows a single sign of not being able to move the offense. Nagy, of course, was the man who yanked Trubisky last year at the first sign of trouble. He shouldn't wait for woes to back Fields.
There might be ups and downs with the rookie under center, but Fields is the best quarterback on the Bears roster now and moving toward the 2021 season.