It took longer than anyone thought it should’ve.
It came after mounting public pressure.
It was the most obvious decision.
But, finally, Bears coach Matt Nagy saw what everyone else saw and made the move to Justin Fields as his No. 1 quarterback. From the day Fields reported to Halas Hall, he has been building his counterargument to Nagy’s plan of keeping him on the bench until 2022.
In five months, Fields has gone from doing the tedious homework of reciting play calls into a phone to knocking Andy Dalton out of his job. He’ll start against the Raiders on Sunday — and ideally for the next 15 years.
The case against the original plan began growing almost immediately upon Fields’ arrival, though Nagy downplayed it by acknowledging his progress but nixing the notion of a true competition.
There was a competition after all: Fields vs. a timeline that was prematurely cemented.
He chiseled at it for months, then took a jackhammer to it when Dalton’s injury opened up the starting job.
His stats haven’t been overwhelming, but his skills have been. Fields runs like no quarterback the Bears have had. He sends passes whistling 60 yards with precision. He’s clinical and confident while processing the most complicated position in sports.
There’s no way Nagy could’ve credibly continued clinging to Dalton.
“When he got here . . . we weren’t sure how it was gonna be,” Nagy said. “But this entire time, we’ve seen incremental growth.
“This isn’t something that just happened right away. He’s grown to this point. He’s earned it. He’s worked hard. And now he has this opportunity.”
Fields didn’t emerge overnight, but he could’ve gotten there quicker had he been fast-tracked as the starter from the outset. Nagy has reiterated that Fields has been ahead of schedule but said Wednesday, “It doesn’t surprise me’’ that he has come this far, this fast.
Fields expected it. When asked Wednesday if he anticipated becoming the starter this season rather than next, Fields eschewed the pre-packaged, one-day-at-a-time response.
“Yeah,” he said as surely as if he was stating a scientific fact. “That was my goal before the season started, so, yeah.”
What took Nagy so long to come around? Risk.
Dalton was the safe option. After a decade in the NFL, he understands every aspect of the job in a way that Fields simply cannot at this stage. Nagy trusted that and would’ve stuck with him had he stayed healthy. He knew what he’d get from Dalton, and while it wouldn’t be exceptional, it might be enough to eke out a 10-7 record and a playoff berth.
Fields is the unknown adventure — but that’s the best part.
No one knows how good he’ll be by November. There’s limitless potential, but there are sure to be rookie errors, too, and those might cost Nagy precious wins at a time when his job is on the line. He must ride that out and resist the urge to go back to Dalton.
He said the final decision was his and didn’t elaborate on what role general manager Ryan Pace or chairman George McCaskey had in it over the 48 hours between the end of the Lions game and relaying the news to his quarterbacks Tuesday.
“I’m worried about doing what’s best for the Bears, and that’s the only thing that matters,” Nagy said. “That’s it.”
Incidentally, what’s best for the Bears’ future might also be what’s best for Nagy’s present.
Fields enlivened the offense against the Lions with not only his speed, but thrilling shots downfield. He was a great fit with offensive coordinator Bill Lazor in his return as play-caller.
That effectively ended the debate, and with it, the daily badgering of Nagy for keeping such a compelling talent on the sideline. Regardless of how long it took to get here, the wait is over, and the excitement is just beginning.