Choo-choo! You hear that sound? It’s the Justin Fields hype train hitting the highest gear. Fields, the Chicago Bears’ uber-talented rookie quarterback, followed up a strong week of joint practices with the Miami Dolphins with a tantalizing, if at times uneven, performance in the teams’ preseason game Saturday.
Dolphins at Bears, Preseason Week 1: Justin Fields flashes
After a ragged start, Fields led the Bears’ backups on scoring drives of 42, 77, and 70 yards. He threw for a touchdown and ran for another, demonstrating the full range of his considerable talents.
The passing touchdown was a 30-yarder to Jesse James on a busted play. But it was his eight-yard touchdown run to open the second half that truly demonstrated why the clock is ticking on Andy Dalton’s tenure as Chicago’s starter.
Fields dropped back on second-and-goal, only to get flushed quickly out of the pocket. But Dolphins defensive end Tyshun Render made a tactical mistake — surrendering the edge to go for the sack. Render went inside and largely whiffed, Fields saw open field and the touchdown was a fait accompli.
Fields’ legs made an impact multiple times on that scoring drive, extending plays to allow receivers to find gaps in the Dolphins’ defense.
Fields finished the game 14 of 20 for 142 yards, shaking off a lackluster start that included three near-turnovers on as many plays. But Fields really hit his stride once the Bears went hurry-up late in the first half and didn’t look back.
If he did, he might have seen Dalton in his dust. The Bears would prefer starting Dalton, who went 2 of 4 for 18 yards in two non-productive drives. But Fields might not let them.
What to make of Tua Tagovailoa’s day?
Fields wasn’t the only quarterback under the microscope at Soldier Field Saturday.
On any other day, Tua Tagovailoa’s preseason debut would have been the biggest storyline. Tua continued the positive momentum he built up during training camp — until his final throw of the afternoon.
Tagovailoa threw late and into double coverage in the end zone — a triple whammy that resulted in points off the board and a DeAndre Houston-Carson interception.
But that one mistake does not negate all the good things Tagovailoa had done up to that point. He showed poise and confidence that was lacking at times last year. He threw to the intermediate level with zip, and his stats — 8 of 11 for 99 yards — would have been even better if not for an Adam Shaheen drop on the Dolphins’ opening possession.
Should the Dolphins be worried about the offensive line?
There has to be some level of concern inside the Dolphins’ facility about the form of the team’s offensive line this summer.
The Dolphins have selected seven linemen in the past three drafts — and yet on Saturday, they looked rough. The Dolphins struggled to protect and had very little push in short-yardage situations. Brian Flores was alarmed enough that he kept the starters on the field long after Tagovailoa’s day was done.
Particularly troublesome was the play of left tackle Austin Jackson, a first-round pick in 2020.
Beyond a holding penalty that wiped out a big gain, Jackson got little push in the run game and was easily moved in pass pro. Perhaps his worst moment came when he got knocked off his feet and shoved into Tua’s legs by Mario Edwards Jr. Upon review, Tua was a bit fortunate not to get hurt.
Unlike the four other positions on the line, the Dolphins really have no Plan B at left tackle. They need Jackson to be the player they thought they drafted, not the one who has been on the field thus far in 2021.
Coach reactions from Dolphins at Bears
Chicago Bears coach Matt Nagy was not going to make any news on the quarterback position Saturday, but he absolutely gushed about Fields:
“He did a great job of bouncing back, which he always does. … He was extremely calm the whole time. … Is he doing what you want to do? Absolutely. … I totally understand the buzz. We feel it too.”
Nagy: “He did awesome.”
As for the Dolphins …
“It comes back to bite you. It did today.” — Brian Flores on the Dolphins turning the ball over at the goal line and failing to punch it in from the 1.
Flores added that the coaching staff talked to Tua about his pick. “He knows what he should have done in the red zone. It’s correctable. … He’ll make the correction and we’ll move on from it.”
Tua had this perfect response when asked what he should have done differently on his interception: “Not thrown it.”
Adam Beasley is the NFL Insider for Pro Football Network. You can read all of Adam’s work here and give him a follow on Twitter @AdamHBeasley.