On the Chicago Bears’ second preseason drive, on a third-down play from their 38-yard line, quarterback Justin Fields broke up the pack and got on the shotgun with positive vibes.
Fields scrutinized the Kansas City Chiefs defense, recognized the man coverage he would face and identified a matchup he loved with his favorite wide receiver Darnell Mooney in left space against cornerback L’Jarius Sneed.
“I pretty much knew what was going to happen,” Fields said.
[ [Don’t miss] Rookies Jaquan Brisker and Trestan Ebner stand out in the Chicago Bears’ 19-14 win over the Kansas City Chiefs in the preseason opener ]
Roll up the tape.
With a look he loved and just enough protection in front of him, Fields hit the top of his five-step drop and launched, on time and with rhythm. Mooney, throwing a crisp outside pitch on a fading route, received a small pick from wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown and created a breakup. Fields’ ball was on Mooney’s back shoulder, requiring a slight adjustment but keeping safety Juan Thornhill at bay.
Mooney spun, jumped and pulled the ball to gain 26 yards.
“I think Darnell knew where he was going to put that ball,” Fields said.
Mooney added: “I just went and grabbed it. We had the opportunity to put on a play. And it was nice to have that in game-like conditions against other guys.”
In terms of yards gained, that was the Bears’ biggest play from scrimmage in their 19-14 win at Soldier Field, a 26-yard play that brought the crowd to life, at least for a few moments. You could argue that deep shot was also the team’s biggest play when it came to future potential.
Look, August in the NFL is always a search for promising signs. And that connection from Fields to Mooney on Saturday qualified as a bright spot during an afternoon in which the rebuilding Bears looked a lot like a team with a long, long way to go to compete at the highest level.
Still, when the chemistry between quarterback and top receiver is apparent, at least it’s something to feel good about, right?
“I think it was a routine play for us,” Fields said. “It was, of course, a great catch by (Mooney). But we have seen it many times. So it wasn’t a surprise.”
That’s a significant overall goal for Fields and the offense to more consistently feel like their big plays are routine. And with four weeks to go in the regular season, the established and still-growing connection between Fields and Mooney remains remarkable.
“It feels great,” Fields said. “It’s just knowing how he’s going to run the route, how he’s going to work the defender, where he’s going to end up. Just the chemistry between the two of us and the work done in the offseason, that shows right there.”
To be clear, the Bears’ first-unit offense’s production on Saturday was far from spectacular and hardly satisfactory. Fields took 18 plays on three possessions for the Bears, rushing for 78 yards and four first downs.
The driving graph (clear, clear, clear) felt all too familiar and registers as at least moderately worrisome.
From the start of training camp to Saturday’s victory, there has been little evidence to believe that a significant offensive breakthrough will happen any time soon. But internally, Baby Step Bears eagerly identify things they can build on.
Coach Matt Eberflus, for example, applauded the way Fields operated, managed the group and showed a feel for the game.
Mooney acknowledged the offense was playing behind a work-in-progress line without the services of wide receivers Byron Pringle, Velus Jones and N’Keal Harry, who are out with injuries. Also, starting running back David Montgomery and tight end Cole Kmet were left out.
“There’s definitely a lot of guys missing right now,” Mooney said. “But with the guys that are here, I feel like we did well. I’m interested to see (on video) how smooth it was.”
If the Bears wanted a glimpse of what they one day strive to become, Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes happily obliged. Overseeing just one drive on Saturday, and really just looking to break a sweat and relax, Mahomes led the Chiefs on an 11-play, 72-yard drive to Soldier Field’s north end zone.
Bing, bang, boom.
The 2018 league MVP and Super Bowl LIV champion extended his six completions to six receivers and ended the drive with a 5-yard screen pass to tight end Blake Bell for a touchdown.
“We did what we were supposed to do,” Mahomes said.
Perhaps one day, Fields and the Bears can look forward to similar efficiency and ease in the way they break up opposing defenses. But for now, they’re at a different stage of the grind with a less experienced quarterback learning a new system with so many new faces everywhere.
To Fields’ credit, his first-hand review of early offensive production was appropriately subdued.
“I think it went well,” he said. “There is always room to improve.”
Fields was asked what he was most looking forward to scoring when he got his first chance to review all 18 plays.
“I have to dissect every play,” he said. “Go back to my rules. What am I supposed to do in this play? (Look) protection and things like that. It’s just about being driven by the process and making sure I did my job.”
For a starting NFL quarterback with the greatest of ambitions, celebrating 26-yard completions can only go so far when no points are added to the scoreboard.
So Fields would be the first to acknowledge that the Bears’ rise has only just begun.
He added another crowd-pleasing completion late in the first quarter, acknowledging additional pressure from the Chiefs before the snap, adjusting protection, then hitting Tajae Sharpe down the right sideline to convert third-and-9.
“Justin did a great job of putting it in a place where only I could access it,” Sharpe said.
Much of the Bears fan base reacted similarly.
Live! Now… more of that. Much more.
For the record, the Bears scored all 19 of their points after halftime with backup quarterback Trevor Siemian leading two touchdown drives and a series of short field goals. Siemian hit rookie Trestan Ebner with a 12-yard touchdown pass up the middle and then hit Dazz Newsome for a 13-yard touchdown.
Cairo Santos added field goals of 20 and 47 yards to score the victory.
Now the Bears will turn the page with training camp practices Monday and Tuesday, followed by a second preseason game Thursday night in Seattle against the Seahawks. At this stage in the growth process, Fields and the offense must take all their wins, however small, and bag them unapologetically. But they must also push themselves harder, striving to produce big plays and brilliant moments much more often.
Fields said, “We’re just going to keep working, keep racking up days and keep getting better with the little things.”