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Matt Nagy denies George McCaskey interference in Fields-Dalton decision

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.

Bears rookie quarterback Justin Fields completed 17-of-29 passes for 291 yards, one touchdown and one interception and an 89.9 passer rating against the Steelers in Week 9.
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’ 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 coach Matt Nagy’s fate, it’s always about the quarterback.

So a day after Dalton threw for 317 yards and directed a late field-goal drive that gave the Bears a 16-14 walk-off victory over the winless Lions on Thanksgiving Day at Ford Field, 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’s healthy. He said Fields isn’t throwing yet, but he didn’t 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 the report by NFL Network indicated the “tiny cracks” were not severe and wouldn’t affect the Bears’ optimistic recovery timeline.

Considering that the Bears (4-7) are a long shot to make the playoffs and that Dalton’s steady veteran hand arguably gives them a better chance to win right now anyway, Nagy doesn’t have to rush Fields back. Even if Fields 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 a 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 brush fire from last week, Nagy denied a report by veteran Bears reporter and analyst Hub Arkush — who has close, long-held ties at Halas Hall — that Bears chairman George McCaskey ordered Nagy to make Fields the starter after Fields’ first NFL start against the Browns on Sept. 26.

“That couldn’t be further from the truth,” Nagy said.

Nagy had said the day after that 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 Fields would be the full-time starter.

That seemed like an oddly sudden change of heart, even though the decision fell in line with the popular notion that Fields should be playing. But it’s equally odd that McCaskey would suddenly take a heavy-handed approach to a football matter when he has vowed not to 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 the 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 unex-pectedly were able to acquire Fields — a potential No. 2 overall pick — via a trade with the Giants for the No. 11 pick.

The Bears initially planned for Fields to sit behind Dalton as a rookie apprentice — an approach 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 how Saints coach Sean Payton used Taysom Hill in place of Drew Brees. When Dalton hurt his knee early in the second quarter against the Bengals, Fields played the entire second half.

Before hurting his ribs against the Ravens, Fields had been inconsistently effective but was making progress — arguably proving he should have been starting from Day 1.

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 illustrates how bumpy it has been.

“When you have a plan . . . you go with it,” he 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.”