Bears rookie quarterback Justin Fields (1) missed Thursday’s game against the Lions with cracked ribs, but could return against the Cardinals on Dec. 5. | Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
The Bears’ head coach reiterated that Justin Fields will start when he recovers from cracked ribs he suffered against the Ravens. That’s his call — and always has been, he said.
The Bears’ ever-entertaining quarterback situation — Justin Fields or Andy Dalton — took a back seat to a bigger soap opera storyline at Halas Hall last week. But make no mistake — regardless of Matt Nagy’s fate, it’s always about the quarterback.
So a day after Andy Dalton threw for 317 yards and directed a game-winning field goal drive that gave the Bears a 16-14 walk-off victory over the winless Lions on Thursday at Ford Ford, there was plenty of quarterback fodder as the Bears begin a “mini-bye” week before facing the Cardinals on Dec. 5 at Soldier Field:
Nagy reiterated that Fields will be the starter as soon as he is healthy. Nagy said Fields is not throwing yet but did not rule out a return against the Cardinals.
“He’s moving around pretty good,” Nagy said. “We have some time on our side to declare … where he’s at. Every day matters for him. He’s doing a good job of keeping the communication open.
Nagy confirmed that Fields has cracked ribs, but even that report by NFL Network indicated that the “tiny cracks” were not severe and would not alter the optimistic recovery timeline.
With the Bears (4-7) having a long shot hope of making the playoffs and Dalton’s steady veteran hand arguably giving the Bears a better chance to win games today, Nagy doesn’t have to rush Fields back. Even if he doesn’t play against the Cardinals, he could return against the Packers at Lambeau Field on Dec. 12 — and still have five games left in the 17-game season to continue to lay the foundation for 2022.
“We’re going to have to wait and see truly where his health is at to [see if he is] able to play or not,” Nagy said. “We don’t want to obviously risk more injury to him.”
Nagy said trainer Andre Tucker and the team doctors will make the determination. “[Fields] just has to communicate with his pain [level],” Nagy said.
Addressing yet another brushfire from last week’s chaos, Nagy denied a report by veteran Bears reporter/analyst Hub Arkush — who has close and long-held Halas Hall ties — that Bears chairman George McCaskey ordered Nagy to make Fields the starter after Fields’ first NFL start against the Browns.
“That couldn’t be further from the truth,” Nagy said.
Nagy had said the day after the Browns game — in which Fields was sacked nine times in a 26-6 loss — that Dalton would remain the starter when he recovered from a knee injury he suffered against the Bengals the previous week. Two days later, Nagy announced that Fields would be the full-time starter.
That seemed like an oddly sudden change of heart, though the decision fell in line with the popular notion that Fields should be playing. But it’s equally odd that George McCaskey would suddenly take a heavy-handed approach to a football matter when he has vowed repeatedly to not do that. He and team president Ted Phillips are well aware of Bears fans’ disdain for them meddling in football affairs when they have virtually no football background.
Nagy’s denial of that report was unsolicited in response to a question about the season-long challenge of managing the quarterback situation. The Bears signed Dalton in free agency to be their starter. But they unexpectedly were able to acquire Fields — a potential No. 2 overall pick in the 2021 draft — via a trade with the Giants for the 11th overall pick.
The Bears initially planned for Fields to sit behind Dalton as a rookie apprentice — a move that was unpopular with Bears fans who wanted Fields to at least have a chance to compete with Dalton for the starting job.
Nagy resisted the call for that, but even he couldn’t stick by his original plan. When the season started, Fields played five snaps against the Rams and two against the Bengals as a change-of-pace quarterback — similar to Saints coach Sean Payton’s use of Taysom Hill in place of Drew Brees. Dalton suffered the knee injury early in the second quarter of the Bengal game, Fields played the entire second half and eventually was named the full-time starter.
Fields has been inconsistently effective, but was making progress — arguably proving the point he should have been the starter from Day 1 — before he suffered injured ribs against the Ravens last Sunday.
Nagy said he had no regrets about how the plan was initiated or how it has played out. But even his support of the plan illustrated how bumpy it has been.
“When you have a plan … you go with it,” Nagy said. “Andy got hurt and Justin comes in. Justin’s the starter. Justin gets hurt. When Justin gets back to being healthy he’s back in. When you have that plan, you stick to it and you don’t look back.”