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Opportunity finally knocks again for Andy Dalton

The 2021 season hasn’t quite worked out as the veteran quarterback expected. But Sunday’s game against the Cardinals is another chance to prove he can be a starter for someone in the NFL in 2022. 

Bears quarterback Andy Dalton (14) completed 24-of-39 passes for 317 yards, one touchdown and one interception for an 85.1 passer rating in the Bears’ 16-14 victory over the Lions on Thanksgiving at Ford Field in Detroit.
Bears quarterback Andy Dalton (14) completed 24-of-39 passes for 317 yards, one touchdown and one interception for an 85.1 passer rating in the Bears’ 16-14 victory over the Lions on Thanksgiving at Ford Field in Detroit.
Duane Burleson/AP Photos

After playing against the Ravens and Lions without the benefit of live first-team practice reps, Bears quarterback Andy Dalton should be better against the Cardinals after practicing with the first team all week. Right?

“Yeah, you get full-speed reps. I think that’s important,” Dalton said. “Last week [against the Lions], most of the stuff was walkthrough, so it’s good to have a full week of preparation going into it.”

Coach Matt Nagy, interestingly, didn’t think it was that big of a deal — at this stage of Dalton’s career.

“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. So a lot of times it’s more of him just being able to run [the offense]. He’s been there, done that. Bill [Lazor] and I know that.”

It’ll be interesting to see if a full week in Nagy’s offense will benefit Dalton. Previously, veteran quarterbacks have succeeded in emergency roles — Chase Daniel in 2018 against the Vikings, and Nick Foles in 2020 against the Falcons — but haven’t been as efficient with more practice time in Nagy’s offense.

The degree of difficulty also factors into the equation. The Cardinals are ranked fifth in total defense, fourth in points allowed and sixth in sacks. The Ravens are 19th in total defense, ninth in scoring and 17th in sacks. The Lions are 28th in total defense, 27th in scoring and 29th in sacks.

Dalton sounded undaunted by that challenge.

“Every game you play there are things that are difficult,” Dalton said. “It’s never just easy out there. We know the [defense] we’re playing against. I feel like we’ve had a really good week of work. Now it comes down to getting ready on Sunday to show what we can do.”

This will be Dalton’s fourth start in a disjointed season that hasn’t been quite what he expected when he signed with the Bears in free agency in March to be the starting quarterback. He started Weeks 1-2 before suffering a knee injury, then losing the starting job to rookie Justin Fields.

He replaced Fields against the Ravens when Fields suffered broken ribs in the third quarter and invigorated a struggling offense with two touchdown passes in a 16-13 loss. He started against the Lions four days later on Thanksgiving and threw for 317 yards — the most by a Bears quarterback since Foles passed for 335 yards against the Titans in Week 10 last season. And he orchestrated an 18-play, 69-yard field-goal drive that won the game as time expired.

Though the Bears still have playoff hopes — they’re one game behind Washington for the No. 7 seed in the NFC but have six other teams between them — Dalton is more of a stop-gap than ever at this point. Fields is the Bears’ future, whenever he returns from his injury. But for Dalton, it’s another chance to prove he can still be a starter for someone in the NFL in 2022.

“I’m thankful for the opportunity to be out there,” Dalton said. “It’s a lot more fun to play than to be sitting on the sidelines. I’m just trying to make the most of it. I’m trying to do everything I can to help this team win, and the rest of all that will take care of itself.”