CHICAGO — Hours before the Carolina Panthers officially handed the Bears the No. 1 pick in the 2024 NFL Draft, quarterback Justin Fields dropped a pass during the second quarter against the Atlanta Falcons at Soldier Field and had everyone holding their breath.
Falcons linebacker Bud Dupree was freed from the right side and Fields was dead on the rights to what would have been a sack ending drive on third-and-8. The fields rose and Dupree shook. As he attempted to escape the pocket, defensive tackle David Unemat grabbed him by the leg. Fields somehow wiggled freely and rushed through Calais Campbell to turn a killer drive into a 13-yard gain.
The play brought safeties Eddie Jackson and Jaquan Brisker to their feet as they both fanned Fields while going out of bounds after the gain.
“Wizard. You're magic! Those are my exact words,” Jackson said after the Bears' 37-17 thrashing at Soldier Field. “Bro, you're magic. You are charming, brother. This is your new name. This is madness.”
On a day that concluded the difficult offseason decision awaiting Bears general manager Ryan Poles, Fields composed one of his most complete plays in a performance that ended with Bears fans chanting “We want Justin!” As the hour ends.
“I want Justin. We all want Justin. Let's go!” Brisker said in the locker room after the win. “This is our guy. This guy definitely makes plays and he's a leader. We love a guy like that. He gives it everything he's got. He broke five tackles. I don't even know, man. He's definitely amazing. You can't let a guy like that slide.”
Fields opened the day with a 32-yard score to DJ Moore along the right sideline. He punctuated the Bears' opening drive by throwing an icy rope to Moore in the back corner of the end zone for a 7-yard touchdown.
It was the beginning of a performance that perfectly summed up everything Fields can do when he puts it all together.
Fields' first half on Sunday was arguably the second-best half of football he played in a Bears uniform, trailing only the first half against the Broncos, where he had just one incompletion on a Hail Mary attempt.
Fields finished the game 20-for-32 for 268 yards and one touchdown while adding 45 yards and a score on the ground. It wasn't perfect. There were some misses and some late trigger pulls. This will happen.
But overall, Fields was at his best on the day the Bears secured the rights to draft a replacement for him — if they deemed it necessary.
“You have to appreciate him, man,” Jackson said of Fields. “All the things he does, all the things he goes through, all the talk about him. He's been disrupting and coming out here playing and leading this team. You've got to take your hat off to someone like that. He's shown real resilience. “He's a real leader. “He keeps coming here every week, denying what everyone says and proving them wrong.”
After the win, teammates waded into the locker room with celebratory cigar smoke still hanging in the air to give Fields his props.
“Houdini!” Kyler Gordon exclaimed as he hugged the quarterback into his locker.
“Wizard. That was crazy, bro.” DeMarcus Walker said with a big smile as he walked past Fields to the locker.
Offensive coordinator Luke Getsy walked up and congratulated Fields, shaking his head at the feat.
A third-and-8 escape, a play that amounts to nothing in the grand scheme of things, may determine the massive decision that awaits the Poles and the Bears.
“I've said it before, and I'll keep saying it, what makes him not a quarterback?” DJ Moore said after the win. “I mean today the Houdini Code should have put the nail in his coffin [coffin] … it is him”. He will be a midfielder. I want him to be a quarterback. I said what I said, and now he is at the highest level. “It's up to them.”
The fields have always had flashes. The consistency in passing has arrived over the past month, while the flashes of incredible playmaking have remained.
With Moore, a healthy Cole Kimmitt, and another good wide receiver, Fields played Sunday against the Falcons is a quarterback who is difficult to scheme for and difficult to stop when things are going well.
The fields are constantly improving. It was not a sin. Progress is never like that. But it's special for Fields to put all the pieces together as he did Sunday in a statement performance highlighted by a play that few — perhaps only one — can pull off.
“He's dynamic. Very dynamic,” Montez Sweat said. “He plays like Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes but the players don't overdo it like they do with other quarterbacks. But it's one of nothing. “I'm glad he's by my side.”
Fields was “living in the present,” not focusing on the uncertain future that lay ahead. He's not one to make an argument for why he should be the Bears' starting quarterback of the future.
Last week, Fields was asked what he has shown the Bears this season. He refused to participate in the exercise.
“Getting better,” Fields said. “They know. They know. Everyone knows who I am in the building. Like I said, I can control what I can control and that's it.”
But while he spent the entire season living in the present and not caring about tomorrow, Fields took one day Sunday to enjoy what could be his final start at Soldier Field as the Bears' starting quarterback. He will remember the snow. He'll remember facing the team he grew up cheering for in Georgia. He will remember the fans cheering him on as the clock wound down.
“I will definitely remember this match for the rest of my life,” Fields said after the win.
While his future is uncertain, there is hope inside the Bears' locker room that Sunday's win was the start of something and not the final chapter.
“I heard those cheers,” Moore said after the win. “I know their boxes [front office, ownership] “They're there so I know they've heard these things too.”
The Bears are building something. A season that started out at 0-4 and belonged in a dumpster in the inner core of the Earth is now a positive step forward for a team whose stock is trending straight up.
Fields, his growth, potential and dynamic ability are viewed as vital components of the momentum the Bears consistently create in 2024.
“I really think he's the only guy who can do it in this league,” Cole Kmet said of Fields' magical escape. “I think that's what captivates him so much. It's something very special to see.”
“He makes crazy plays,” Brisker said. “I told him, 'That's Houdini. He's a dog. He's a dog. He's different. You'll never see anyone do plays like that.'”
“He's a dog. Stop playing with him, really.”
On a day that was all about how bright the future was in Chicago, the one piece who might not be a part of it put on a stellar performance and caused the lakefront to resonate with cheers that perfectly summed up the sentiment inside the locker room he led.
For at least one more match.
Click here to follow the Under Center Podcast.