There’s a new chapter in the Andy Dalton-Justin Fields story for Chicago Bears fans to debate now.
The knee injury to Dalton has opened the door to Fields perhaps starting for the Bears — from here on out. It looked like Dalton suffered the injury on a run near the end of the first half against the Cincinnati Bengals, limping off the field afterward.
Dalton returned briefly before he was ruled out with a knee injury, preventing him from finishing off the revenge game against his old team. Instead, Fields took over down the stretch in the Bears’ 20-17 victory.
Is it his job for good?
In theory, it depends on the severity of Dalton’s knee injury. The way head coach Matt Nagy has handled the QB battle so far, Dalton has gotten every benefit of doubt. Nagy has parried the endless questions about who his starter is and when that might change, and he might not be ready to bench Dalton if he’s healthy enough to go next week against the Cleveland Browns.
Nagy told reporters afterward that he was "pretty sure" that Dalton didn't suffer a serious knee injury.
Bears coach Matt Nagy is “pretty sure” that Andy Dalton did not suffer a serious ACL injury, but he’ll know more tomorrow.
— Jeff Dickerson (@DickersonESPN) September 19, 2021
Plus there’s the matter of Fields’ readiness. While puffing just enough air into the first-round draft pick’s sails, Nagy also has stressed readiness as a key factor. Fields didn’t look unready, but he had his share of miscues in this relief appearance.
Fields completed 6 of 13 passes for 60 yards and a pick, also running 10 times for 31 more yards. Even if you argue that his performance was better than the numbers, he stalled twice in the red zone and was guilty of two false start calls.
This victory really belonged to the Bears’ defense, which picked off Joe Burrow three times (on three straight passes!) in the second half, with Roquan Smith running one back 53 yards for a back-breaking score, even if the Bengals made it a ballgame late.
Fields helped with that. He threw a bad pick in his own end of the field, and the Bengals cut it to 20-17 late. That’s a throw he shouldn’t be making — especially in that situation. The good news, if you’re a glass-half-full fan, is that it was by far his most egregious misstep of the game.
Justin Fields was up and down Sunday
This was a day of almosts for Fields. He barely stepped out of bounds on what could have been a TD scramble, instead settling for a field goal. Then Fields threw a gorgeous deep ball to Allen Robinson that Robinson has been dreaming of receiving the past three-plus years … and Robinson dropped it. Fields also threw outside the reach of diminutive Darnell Mooney on a third-and-goal play.
Three almosts. Oh-for-three.
Even with Dalton’s hot start, leading the only offensive TD drive of the game for Chicago, and whatever veteran steadiness factor you might assign to him, Dalton isn’t capable of consistently delivering those big plays.
Can Fields? All three big plays were whiskers away from hitting, but it’s not a guarantee he can deliver on those if he gets his chance.
Some have chalked up Nagy’s hesitancy to the idea of him not wanting to cave to public pressure. But, counterpoint: Wouldn’t this be the perfect excuse to make a move?
Dalton is hurt, and Nagy can just call it now. This is the excuse that should be viewed as a gift.
The Bears can win only so many games with Dalton at quarterback. They at least have a chance with Fields, even while living through the rookie errors. The Bears’ players seem to know it, the fans and media sure do, and Nagy might quietly admit this fact, too, if he was pumped with truth serum.
Will the truth come out this week? We shall see.