AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh
The Chicago Bears beat the Miami Dolphins 20-13 at Soldier Field in Chicago on Saturday in the 2021 preseason opener for both teams.
All eyes were on Bears rookie quarterback Justin Fields, who made his in-game NFL debut after getting selected 11th overall in the 2021 NFL draft.
Fields relieved veteran starter Andy Dalton in the second quarter and went on to play two quarters, scoring his first NFL touchdown in the third on an eight-yard rush and adding a passing touchdown later in the same frame.
A promising, young quarterback saw some playing time on the other side as well, with 2020 No. 5 overall draft pick Tua Tagovailoa getting the start for Miami.
Justin Fields, QB, CHI: 14/20 for 142 YDS, 1 TD; 5 CAR for 33 YDS, 1 TD
Tua Tagovailoa, QB, MIA: 8/11 for 99 YDS, 0 TD, 1 INT
Artavis Pierce, RB, CHI: 5 CAR for 50 YDS; 1 REC for 2 YDS
Salvon Ahmed, RB, MIA: 6 CAR for 40 YDS; 2 REC for 31 YDS, 1 TD
Rodney Adams, WR, CHI: 4 REC for 57 YDS
Mike Gesicki, TE, MIA: 2 REC for 56 YDS
Fields Overcomes Shaky Start, Accounts for 2 Total TDs
Dalton entered the game as the leader in the starting quarterback race and led the Chicago offense in the first quarter, but it wasn’t until the second frame that the Bears faithful truly came to life.
When Fields was announced as Dalton’s replacement, the fans roundly cheered:
Even Dalton seemed to excited to see what Fields could do, as he had a light-hearted moment with the former Ohio State star before he entered the game:
Fields struggled out of the gates with a couple of three-and-outs and even fumbled once, although it rolled out of bounds and didn’t result in a turnover.
Things started to turn around for Fields and the Chicago offense on the final drive of the first half after Miami extended its lead to 13-0.
A completion to Justin Hardy on the run moved the chains on third down and helped set up a field goal just before the end of the half to cut the deficit to 13-3:
Colin Cowherd of Fox Sports was among those who were impressed by Fields taking what the defense gave him at the end of the first half:
That drive clearly seemed to instill some confidence in Fields, as he came out firing in the third quarter, completing a deep pass outside the numbers to Rodney Adams:
Fields completed that drive in style as well, running into the end zone from eight yards out to help make it 13-10 in favor of Miami:
The red-hot Fields continued to move the ball on his next drive, and it resulted in his first touchdown pass, as he found tight end Jesse James on a busted coverage for a 30-yard score:
With that, the Bears scored 17 unanswered points and surged ahead 17-13 after looking listless for much of the first half.
Los Angeles Lakers star and noted Ohio State fan LeBron James showed how bullish he was on Fields’ chances of NFL success in the following tweet:
The excitement among Bears fans regarding Fields entering Saturday’s game was unlike anything in years, and one can only assume the hype train is moving even faster after his showing.
It may still be Dalton’s job to lose, but if Fields turns in one or two more similar performances during the remainder of the preseason, it may be difficult for head coach Matt Nagy to deny him the starting spot.
Tua’s Otherwise Strong Performance Marred by INT
While many starters on both teams were inactive Saturday, Tagovailoa got the start at quarterback for the Dolphins.
Although 2021 is only his second season, it could be a make-or-break year for Tua after he had an up-and-down rookie campaign that saw him get replaced by veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick on multiple occasions.
The Dolphins have a playoff-caliber roster, but whether they make it could come down to Tagovailoa’s performance.
It would be fair to call Tua’s showing against Chicago inconsistent, as he had moments of brilliance and disappointment.
On the positive side, he hooked up with tight end Mike Gesicki for a 50-yard completion, and he also hit wide receiver Mack Hollins for a 14-yard gain on 3rd-and-8:
Tagovailoa staked the Dolphins to a 3-0 lead in the first quarter and drove deep into Chicago territory with a chance to make it 10-0, but he forced a throw into double coverage in the end zone, and Bears safety DeAndre Houston-Carson intercepted it:
That marked the end of the day for Tua, who had only three incompletions and threw for 99 yards in just over one quarter.
While the interception wasn’t an ideal way to end his day, NFL Network’s Cameron Wolfe and Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald suggested the good outweighed the bad:
Cameron Wolfe @CameronWolfe
Tua Tagovailoa showed what we’ve seen much of this offseason — more confidence, rhythm & aggressiveness with deep/tight-window balls that may lead to more TDs but also INTs like the one today.
Unfortunately Dolphins fans, OL/run game play also what we’ve seen. Needs improvement.
Perhaps that was the case, but Tagovailoa can ill afford to make similar mistakes when the games matter during the regular season.
If he does, head coach Brian Flores will no longer have the Fitzpatrick safety net, as Fitz signed with the Washington Football Team in free agency.
Fields’ second chance to impress will come next Saturday when the Bears host the Buffalo Bills, while the Dolphins will return to action the same day against the Atlanta Falcons.