The history books haven’t been kind to the Chicago Bears and their quarterbacks. It’s been a painful bunch of names with varying degrees of expectation; the high hopes of Jay Cutler and Mitch Trubisky and the embarrassing reality of Mike Glennon and Jimmy Clausen. In Week 13’s 33-22 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, Andy Dalton did his best to add his name to that embarrassing column while advancing the narrative that Justin Fields is Chicago’s present and future.
Remember all that chatter about Dalton giving the Bears a better chance to win games in 2021 than Fields? Again, embarrassing. Dalton’s four interceptions crippled a Chicago team that was already considered a big underdog before the Red Rifle started shooting blanks, and once his passes began finding Cardinals defenders, any chance—as slim as it may have been—was lost for good.
“The thing that is unfortunate in this league is that tipped balls usually don’t find the ground,” Dalton said Sunday. “They usually find the other team’s hands. We saw that three times today.”
Perhaps the problem with Dalton runs a bit deeper than the consequences of tipped passes. Maybe his passes were tipped because of his inability to create, his lack of improvisational skills, his pedestrian skill set that limits him (mostly) to the pocket and is highlighted by the occasional downfield completion. For Bears fans, Dalton’s performance at Soldier Field was an all-too-familiar sight. And for those same Bears fans, Dalton reinforced just how brilliant general manager Ryan Pace’s decision to trade up for Fields was. It was a decision that should exorcise the quarterback demons of not just the red-headed variety, but of all those who came before him, too.
Fields missed his second game of the season with a rib injury on Sunday but all signs seem to point to his return for the Bears’ primetime showdown (is it even a showdown at this point?) against the Green Bay Packers in Week 14’s Sunday night matchup. In a weird way, Dalton’s struggles against the Cardinals will relieve some unnecessary pressure that was beginning to mount around the rookie quarterback after Chicago’s Thanksgiving victory over the Detroit Lions. Dalton was pretty good in that game and had he posted two consecutive solid outings, the curmudgeons in the Bears’ fan base would’ve called for him to keep the job. Any suggestion that anyone but Fields should be lining up with the first-teamers for the final five games of the year was officially shut down, one Dalton interception at a time.
Now 4-8, the Bears are one loss away from locking in a sub-.500 record for the first time in coach Matt Nagy’s tenure. It’s a tenure that’s inching closer to ending with every loss, and if Chicago is humiliated by the Packers in primetime next week, that Nagy era might only have one game left in it.
Fields, on the other hand, is just getting started. His season stats haven’t been great, but he’s provided glimpses of what makes him such a special quarterback prospect and why the days of Dalton-like quarterbacks are coming to a rapid end.
Maybe Dalton’s meltdown was a necessary reality check for Fields’ critics. Maybe sitting on the bench actually did help Fields’ growth moving forward, and it’s not because he learned by watching. Instead, we saw what this Bears team looks like without him, and the sad truth is that without Fields, there’s nothing—absolutely nothing—to get excited about in Chicago. Now, the Bears can get to work and surround him with the talent he needs to become the elite NFL quarterback he has the potential to be.
Fields should return in Week 14. So too should the hope and excitement that he brings to a franchise that has none without him.