49ers

Fields gives 49ers glimpse of how life with Lance might look

49ers
Justin Fields

CHICAGO -- The 49ers walked into Soldier Field on Sunday and left with a 33-22 win over the Chicago Bears. But while the 49ers got a much-needed win to snap their four-game losing streak, it was Justin Fields who stole the show.

By now, you've seen the play. Down by seven and facing a fourth-and-1 at the 49ers' 22-yard line with 9:43 remaining, Fields authored the first signature moment of his NFL career.

He took the snap and looked right into the flat toward running back Khalil Herbert. But the 49ers had it covered perfectly, and when Arik Armstead burst through the line it looked like the Bears' drive would end with Fields on the turf.

But Fields shook Armstead and reversed course. He juked Kevin Givens and outran Nick Bosa to the edge where he picked up two blocks before scooting into the end zone to send Soldier Field into a frenzy and bring the Bears within one after a missed PAT.

Don't think Kyle Shanahan wasn't paying attention.

"I was real impressed with him today," Shanahan said of Fields after the 49ers' win. "I mean, just the -- some of the plays he made, especially the one touchdown, that was unbelievable. I think it was fourth down. Right? We had him. It was done. And I thought like three guys had him. So that was one of the more impressive plays I've seen."

 

Fields has had his struggles early in his NFL career. Every rookie does. The Bears have a patchwork offensive line, limited playmakers at the skill positions and, until Sunday, had yet to design any sort of offense to highlight the things Fields does well.

On Sunday, the Bears used bootlegs, zone reads and rolling pockets to get the athletic quarterback out on the edge where he was able to put the 49ers' defense in tough positions and hurt them with both his arm and his legs. Fields threw for 175 yards, rushed for 103 and scored two touchdowns Sunday in a performance that shows how dangerous a true dual-threat QB can be in today's NFL.

The best performance of Fields' young career came with Trey Lance, who the 49ers drafted instead of Fields and Mac Jones at No. 3 overall, sitting on the sideline while the Jimmy Garoppolo of old re-emerged to lead the 49ers to a win they desperately needed.

When the 49ers drafted Lance, Shanahan was quick to note how he has seen the game evolve and how having a quarterback who can be part of the run game can stress a defense in ways that a traditional pocket passer can't.

"I love his natural ability to play the position," Shanahan said when asked what attracted him to Lance after the draft. "Then when you add in a type of running element, which I've always been intrigued with, but when you've got a guy with the skillsets as far as speed and size, to where you're not going to make him a runner but if you can get in certain formations where the defense knows you will run him if they don't honor him, now everything is different. If you can ever get a guy like that and make 11-on-11 football then I think you got a guy who can change some things for you.

"But it always comes down to yeah, you can dabble in that, but you better be confident they can do everything else. He has played a year of football, it was at a smaller school, so that does take work. You're not going to see it all, so that's why it is a hard process and that's why there is no guarantees for any of us. So it's about believing."

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The 49ers didn't need Lance on Sunday. If Garoppolo keeps winning, it's unlikely the rookie will claim the starting role this season.

Fields' performance against the 49ers on Sunday wasn't a reminder of what they passed over -- it's too early in their careers for second-guessing.

But as Fields was making the 49ers' defense chase its tail, threading needles off bootleg action, and dodging prized pass-rushers like they were moving at half speed, there's no doubt Shanahan was paying attention and envisioning what life with Lance will be like when the time comes.

How, when Lance finally is ready, the 49ers can deploy a unique talent that, on the QB's best day, will be almost impossible to stop.

 

But that's a vision for another day. Sunday was all about the 2021 49ers getting off the mat, and Justin Fields finally arriving. Two things, perhaps depending how the season ends, Shanahan won't soon forget.

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