CHICAGO — Like Thanos, Justin Fields did it himself (with help from the San Francisco 49ers defense and unruly defense).
The first half of Sunday’s game against the 49ers at Soldier Field looked a lot like what Fields endured in his rookie season under Matt Nagy. He completed just 3 of 9 passes for 19 yards and a pick while being sacked twice.
But Fields changed his mind in the second half, using his athleticism to escape pressure, extend plays and create for the Bears’ offense. After going down 10-0 in the third quarter, the Bears scored three straight touchdowns — thanks to costly defensive mistakes by the 49ers — to take a 19-10 lead. The 49ers were penalized 12 times for 99 yards on the day.
The Bears defense did the rest, holding off 49ers quarterback Trey Lance at 13 of 28 for 164 yards and one interception.
Swarming the Bears defense and Fields being Fields in the second half was the recipe for opening the Matt Eberflus era with a 19-10 win at soggy Soldier Field.
Here’s what we learned when the Bears opened the season with an upset win over the 49ers.
It’s all about JF1
The Bears’ offensive success in their preseason finale was nowhere to be found early Sunday at Soldier Field.
Chicago’s offensive line struggled off the jump against the 49ers’ vaunted pass rush. Nick Bosa gave Braxton Jones and Larry Borom problems on both sides, while the inside wasn’t much better.
As a result, the Bears couldn’t open any significant traffic lanes for David Montgomery and couldn’t protect Fields in traditional pullback scenarios.
On their first five possessions, the Bears had just two first downs. Fields started 3-for-7 for 19 yards with an inexcusable pick where he tossed into traffic while eyeing Darnell Mooney. The Bears moved the ball around a bit on their sixth possession (the first-half finale), but did so using Fields’ legs. The sophomore quarterback had some nifty runs to move the chains around and help get the ball into 49ers territory.
But the Bears played it safe after crossing midfield, allowing time to run for a 47-yard field goal. Unfortunately, an illegal use of a towel penalty (no joke) on starter Trenton Gill moved them out of reach for the baskets and forced a fifth halftime punt.
Running back David Montgomery led the Bears in receptions during the first half with two receptions. No Bears receiver or tight end caught a fly ball in the first half. Champs made just three passes.
But in the second half, Justin Fields looked like Justin Fields.
Fields electrified the crowd with a big play to open the third quarter. At third-and-10 from their own 49-yard line, Fields felt pressure and bounced out of the pocket to the left. The 49ers completely lost Dante Pettis in coverage, and Fields pushed the field back to the uncovered receiver for a 51-yard touchdown.
On the ensuing possession, Fields walked the Bears for 84 yards in 10 plays (assisted by two 49ers penalties), hitting Equanimeous St. Brown for an 18-yard touchdown to give the Bears the lead. . The play-action pitch at St. Brown was a great design by offensive coordinator Luke Getsy to take advantage of the 49ers linebacker corps that had been suspect in pass coverage all day.
The Bears’ best offense was Fields’ athleticism and ability to escape pressure.
Given the struggles of the Bears offensive line and Fields’ elite athleticism, it would make sense for the Bears to get Fields more out of the pocket. In the second half, by design or not, the Bears let Fields be Fields.
Fields finished the day with an 8-for-17 record for 121 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He also added 30 rushing yards. It wasn’t the prettiest stat line, but what Fields did in the second half, mostly through improvisation, was the only reason the Bears offense was successful.
Defend a HITS
While the offense exploded on Sunday, the defense of Eberflus and Alan Williams largely held their end of the bargain.
On the 49ers’ first possession of the game, the HITS principle came out when Jaylon Johnson knocked the ball off Deebo Samuel, and rookie Jaquan Brisker recovered.
With the Bears’ offense unable to turn the field around, the defense finally broke, allowing Samuel a 6-yard touchdown in the second quarter.
The 49ers came out of the locker room and scored on their first possession of the second half as a 44-yard pass from Trey Lance to Jauan Jennings sent San Francisco into the red zone. But Dominique Robinson and Roquan Smith sacked Lance at third-and-base to keep the 49ers on a field goal.
After the Bears took the lead in the fourth quarter, the defense helped put the game away. Facing a third and five at their own 41, Lance backed up and fired a shot at Jennings. But safety Eddie Jackson stepped in front of the pass, picking it up and returning it to the 49ers’ 21. It was Jackson’s first interception since 2019.
The rain that came late in the fourth quarter helped the Bears contain the 49ers, but all credit goes to Eberflus, defensive coordinator Alan Williams and the unit for keeping Lance in the pocket and doing it beat with his arm. Something he couldn’t do on Sunday in Chicago.
Rookies have rocky starts
On Sunday, the Bears had 11 rookies in uniform. Their NFL debuts had mixed results.
Brisker, Gordon and Robinson were everywhere on defense. Brisker had fun with a fumble recovery on the 49ers’ first possession. On the 49ers’ next possession, Robinson beat right tackle Mike McGlinchey and hung Lance with one arm for his first career sack.
Brisker finished the game with four tackles (one for a loss), while Robinson scored 1.5 sacks on his debut.
Gordon was beaten several times, including the 44-yard one by Jennings. But the Washington product was around the ball (six tackles, one for a loss) and did a solid job giving the lead against the run.
On offense, left tackle Braxton Jones has been poorly received in the NFL by Bosa, Ebukam and the rest of the 49ers defensive line. Bosa beat him with his power and speed moves. After a stellar preseason, Jones looked like a rookie against Bosa and the 49ers.
Punter Trenton Gill had a good day with his leg, but also got the costly unsportsmanlike towel penalty that cost the Bears three runs. But overall, a good day for him as he averaged 46.2 yards per punt.