The Bears should have a quarterback controversy on their hands, though not the one you might think. Yes, backup Andy Dalton almost led the Bears to a victory against the Ravens on Sunday, but he’s not the answer, unless the question is, “Who is Mr. and Mrs. Dalton’s son?’’
The real controversy should be over the widespread notion of Justin Fields as a superstar-in-waiting. Is he? What would lead a person to come to that conclusion?
When the rookie left with a rib injury in the third quarter Sunday, he had completed 4 of 11 passes for 79 yards and no touchdowns. His passer rating was 62.3. He had lost a fumble. Before Dalton took over in what would end up being a 16-13 Baltimore victory, the Bears had failed to score a point. It’s fair to say that Ravens quarterback Tyler Huntley, making his first NFL start (for an ill Lamar Jackson), looked much better than Fields did.
The truth is that Fields has had more games like Sunday’s than of the good variety.
There are all sorts of legitimate targets when handing out blame for the Bears’ 3-7 record. But it’s possible that all of the following is true at the same time: coach Matt Nagy can’t coach, general manager Ryan Pace can’t manage, even generally, and Fields isn’t what so many people think he is.
Somewhere along the way, it became a given that the kid had greatness written all over him. The Bears, of course, have pushed the idea hard since taking him with the 11th overall pick in this year’s draft. Now it’s standard practice for every network analyst to pass along that opinion as fact. Hardcore fans and casual onlookers alike accept it as gospel.
Thus it was no surprise that Nagy vigorously defended Fields on Sunday when a reporter asked him if it would be better for Dalton to play Thursday against Detroit and the young quarterback to take a break.
“Justin’s played his tail off, and he’s played really well,’’ Nagy said. “Justin’s done everything that we’ve asked him to do to be able to grow as a quarterback. He got hurt. He’s done everything to be the starter, to continue to be the starter. … We’ve just got to see where Justin’s at. When you’re talking about ribs, you’ve got to find out how much it affects him.’’
The numbers don’t come close to backing Nagy’s contention that Fields has “played really well’’ this season. He came into Sunday’s game with four touchdown passes, eight interceptions and a passer rating of 69.4. He has run well when given the opportunity. But when he fumbled in the second quarter Sunday, it was his ninth of the year and the third he has lost. If all of that is what Nagy considers excellent play, then I’m ready to join the PGA Tour.
The rush to crown Fields is one of life’s great mysteries. He had a career-high 291 passing yards in a loss to the Steelers last week. With the amount of praise shoved his way afterward, you would have thought he had thrown for 500 yards against the 1972 Dolphins.
What we saw Sunday wasn’t a regression. He has played this way for much of the season. He has played like many rookie quarterbacks have played before him. And that’s OK. He has one of the most difficult jobs in sports. It’s way too early to say that this might be who he is, but maybe it’s time to table the talk that, if it weren’t for all he has going against him (Nagy, the offensive line, etc.), he’d be well down the road to stardom.
The Bears failed Fields on Sunday by again not calling more play action and screen passes. Anyone making the case for Nagy to remain in his position past this season either hasn’t been watching the games or has been overserved. There’s a good chance that the lasting image of Nagy will come from the Ravens game, when his headset cut out. He was irate and had to blow a timeout. A coach untethered.
But Nagy wasn’t responsible for the play on which Fields was likely injured. On a third-and-11, his quarterback didn’t see a wide-open David Montgomery and instead chose to run. See? There’s enough blame to go around for what Fields has gone through this season. Lots of people have played a role in the Bears’ five-game losing streak.
That’s not the story his many supporters want to hear. They prefer the tale of a talented quarterback who is the victim of the bad decisions of a dolt of a head coach. Some of that is true. But the other, unpopular, less-publicized story is of a young kid whose rookie struggles are his own.
Why is that one banned?