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Why Justin Fields sitting Sunday is for the best

It’s best for the rookie — in a lost season, Fields’ health is paramount to the future of the franchise. It’s best for the Bears, too — veteran Andy Dalton gives them a better chance to win Sunday than a hampered Fields would.

Cincinnati Bengals v Chicago Bears
Justin Fields and Andy Dalton talk before the Bears’ game against the Bengals in September.
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

It might not feel like it when Andy Dalton is throwing five-yard passes in the rain Sunday at Soldier Field, but quarterback Justin Fields sitting out against the Cardinals is for the best.

It’s best for him — in a lost season, Fields’ health is paramount to the future of the franchise. It’s best for the Bears, too — Dalton gives them a better chance to win Sunday than a hampered Fields would.

Fields still hadn’t been cleared by Bears doctors 12 days after cracking his ribs against the Ravens, coach Matt Nagy said Friday. While Fields carries the game designation of “doubtful,” it’s safe to consider him out — Dalton will start, and third-stringer Nick Foles will suit up as the backup, Nagy said.

Fields will turn his focus toward playing Dec. 12 in Green Bay.

“I think he’s definitely getting closer,” Nagy said. “Again, progress for him. And every day, you just try to get a little bit closer. And after we get through this game, we go ahead and see, ‘OK, where you at?’

“We’re going to evaluate it next week, and next week should be better. So now we just need to figure out exactly from him talking to us as to how he feels.”

Every Fields start has been a referendum on the future of the franchise — and the job status of Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace. Dalton starting carries no such stakes. But playing a hampered Fields would do little to provide an accurate reading on the rookie — other than being reminded of his toughness every time he took a hit.

Caution is important with a rib injury. As offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said this week, hurt ribs make it painful to sneeze, much less play football.

“No matter what the injury is, there’s always going to be some hesitation when it’s your ribs,” Nagy said. “Just the simple things of throwing, dropping back, stretching out to hand the ball off.

“Whatever it is, all that stuff, he’s improved with that, and the pain has gotten better and better. So we just keep communicating.”

Fields was able to run the scout team, mimicking Kyler Murray. But, per team rule, he was never touched by a defender. The Bears weren’t confident his ribs would be able to sufficiently withstand getting hit by one of the league’s most vicious defenses Sunday.

“Now the biggest thing for him is being able to understand, probably more than anything, just the pain management of how things feel,” Nagy said. “We’re obviously not going to go out there and hit him while he’s running around in practice and see. So it’s going to be a constant communication between him, our trainers, myself, just to how he’s feeling and how everything is going.

“For this week, that’s probably the best thing that we feel — between him, us, our doctors, trainers. And so that’s why we’re fortunate in this situation to be able to have Andy and Nick in this situation.”

Dalton will get his fourth start and his second in as many weeks. He replaced Fields in the third quarter against the Ravens and played well, completing 11 of 23 passes for 201 yards and two touchdowns. He started against the Lions four days later and went 24-for-39 for 317 yards with one touchdown pass and one interception in a 16-14 victory.

In the four days between the two games, Dalton didn’t take part in a full practice — the Bears merely held walkthroughs. He took the starter snaps during a full slate of practices this week.

“It’s good to have a full week of preparation going into it,” Dalton said.

Still, it’s hard to imagine the benefit being significant for someone who has made 145 career starts.

“Andy’s been in this league a long time,” Nagy said. “He’s seen a million different defenses. He’s been in a bunch of different huddle breaks and different calls at the line of scrimmage.

“He’s been there, done that.”

For better and for worse, the Bears know what they’re going to get from Dalton. On Sunday, it will be for the better, regardless of the outcome of the game.