By the time Justin Fields finished his one quarter of work in Saturday’s preseason opener, the Bears quarterback had merely completed all three passes he threw for 129 yards and a perfect 158.3 passer rating.
No presumptive Week 1 starter had thrown two touchdowns in the Bears’ preseason opener this millennium. Fields threw two — one for 62 and the next for 56 — just five minutes apart.
Fields left with a seven-point lead against the Titans in a game the Bears would win, 23-17.
He sent the Soldier Field faithful of home with not only hope — but proof-of-concept that surrounding the young quarterback with offensive upgrades was a wiser course of action than drafting a passer with the first pick in the April draft. In that sense, Saturday was a better day for the Bears offense than it was for Fields.
As for Fields, the usual preseason caveats apply: his touchdowns came against a Titans defense made up of mostly second-stringers. And Fields’ two passing scores that totaled 118 yards? Both were screens. Fields threw the ball three yards shy of the line of scrimmage on the first and one yard shy of it on the next. The receivers, running backs and linemen did a lot of the hard work.
On second-and-8 from their own 38-yard line, Fields threw a screen left to receiver DJ Moore, whom the Bears received as part of the Panthers’ package for the first overall pick. He sprinted up the left sideline behind blocks from left tackle Braxton Jones and left guard Teven Jenkins for a 62-yard score.
On third-and-8 on the ensuing Bears drive, offensive coordinator Luke Getsy picked the perfect time for a screen. Pressured, Fields rolled left and dumped the ball off to running back Khalil Herbert. He ran behind the motorcade of center Cody Whitehair, who made a crushing block, and right guard Ja’Tyre Carter. By the time he was finally touched at the 7, Herbert lowered his pads and muscled his way into the end zone for a 56-yard touchdown.
The Bears moved Whitehair, their most-tenured players, back to center this offseason. Jenkins went from right guard to left. General manager Ryan Poles chose not to replace Jones at left tackle; when he drafted Darnell Wright 10th overall, he decided to keep him at his best college position.
And then there’s the addition of Moore, as significant of an upgrade as there’s been at any starting position in the NFC North. Moore’s touchdown catch Saturday was longer than any reception made by any Bears player last season. Last year, the Bears had a receiver post more than 62 receiving yards in an entire game only five times. Only Darnell Mooney did it more than once.
Last year, nothing was ever easy for the Bears’ passing game. It hasn’t been during training camp, either, with Fields alternating encouraging and frustrating days.
For one quarter Saturday, it was. Even if it was a short pass.