Justin Fields, Chicago's struggling rookie quarterback, had the greatest play of his young career Sunday at home against the 49ers. The Bears lost the game, 33-22, but this time, at least it wasn't because Fields couldn't get the offense going.
With 9:43 left in the fourth quarter, Fields scrambled 22 yards for a touchdown on fourth-and-1. But it wasn't just a scramble, it was a masterpiece, and the type of play only a supremely talented athlete could make. It was the type of play a franchise quarterback makes.
Fields started under center and then turned to run out to his right, a designed pass to running back Khalil Herbert, but Niners defensive end Arik Armstead busted the play immediately when he was left unblocked. The quarterback stumbled trying to avoid Armstead. The play would be over right then for probably anybody but Lamar Jackson, but instead of falling, Fields cut back across the field to his left and made two other Niners defenders miss. His teammates kept blocking for him (shout out to receiver Darnell Mooney throwing off Josh Norman, the last Niner in Fields's way) and he accelerated all the way to the end zone to put the Bears in a position to tie it up with an extra point (they missed it). "I just saw a lane start opening up and then I just ran it right in the end zone," Fields said. "I mean, I can't really describe it; it really just happened off of instinct."
After he scored, Fields flipped the ball high into the air in celebration. "Yeah, I'm not going to lie, that was awesome," he said. "I was excited, as y'all you could see."
It was a total 180 from the dejected Fields who slumped on the bench in Tampa last week, looking helpless as the Bears lost 38-3. Fields completed 68 percent of his passes in that one, but never found the end zone as he threw three interceptions and rushed eight times for just 38 yards. This week, his completion percentage was up, his yards per completion were up, and he ran and threw for touchdowns. It could be just a coincidence, but this mini-breakout came during the game that head coach Matt Nagy was unable to coach and unable to communicate with anyone on the staff because he tested positive for COVID-19. Fields said after the game that he doesn't really talk to Nagy much during games anyways, and Nagy stopped directly calling plays after Fields's disastrous first start in Week 3 against the Browns. But when Nagy finally admitted after the Lions game in Week 4 that he was no longer the one calling the plays, he emphasized one point: "In the end, it goes through me."
The Niners' defense is not the Buccaneers' defense, and maybe Fields just needed some time to get more comfortable with the speed of NFL defenses. But with Nagy away at an undisclosed location, Fields had his best game yet. Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor set Fields free on more designed runs and read-option plays and he finished with a career-high 103 rushing yards on 10 carries. The offense was flowing so well that Chicago didn't punt until late in the third quarter.
Fields's something-out-of-nothing touchdown run was exactly what the Bears saw when they drafted him 11th overall. He has elite athleticism and the instincts to make game-changing plays. That touchdown run could be a glimpse into Fields's future, if he's given the right game plan to support his skillset. Next Monday night, the Bears travel to Pittsburgh. It may be worth watching Nagy's status this week.