clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Imagine: Andy Dalton succeeds and heads explode in the Justin Fields-must-start camp

What if Dalton starts zinging the ball to Bears receivers and the team starts winning?

Bears quarterback Andy Dalton passes against the Bills during a preseason game Aug. 21 at Soldier Field.
Bears quarterback Andy Dalton passes against the Bills during a preseason game Aug. 21 at Soldier Field.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

For those of you who enjoy watching people lose their minds, those of you who actually edge closer when you see someone berating a ticket agent for a missed flight connection, I want you to know that I’m here for you.

I have a scenario that would cause a good percentage of Bears fans to have an apoplectic fit if it were to come true.

It involves quarterback Andy Dalton playing so well this season and the team winning so regularly that rookie Justin Fields can’t get the job that many fans and media are sure is his birthright.

Sobbing, howling and effigy burning ensue.

Enjoy the show!

The start-Fields-now crowd believes the chances of Dalton succeeding in 2021 are close to zero. That crowd looks upon Dalton the way an iPhone user looks upon the telegraph. It looks upon Fields the way a besotted teenager looks upon a supermodel’s portfolio.

But . . . what if?

What if Dalton, despite having an offensive line that seems to hold a grudge against the quarterbacks it’s supposed to protect, starts zinging the ball to Bears receivers? What if, against all odds, he looks like the Andy Dalton who had a 106.2 passer rating with the Bengals in 2015, not the Andy Dalton who had a 78.3 rating with the Bengals in 2019?

Can you imagine the exploding heads of the people who already believe that Fields, the Bears’ 2021 first-round draft pick, is missing valuable time with the starters while the coaching staff follows a foolish script that’s big on patience and restraint?

Oh, it would be delicious. And before you say that I’m a selfish columnist looking for controversy to attract readers, know that anything with the word “Bears’’ in it attracts readers in Chicago. A backup cornerback getting his wisdom teeth removed could give rise to a well-read three-part series.

Dalton playing well would pose an interesting question for die-hard Bears fans: It’s about winning games, right? (If it isn’t about winning games, it would explain why so many of you have stood by this franchise for so long.) Benching a successful Dalton would make it hard to argue that victories are the thing.

Last season, coach Matt Nagy famously demoted Mitch Trubisky in favor of Nick Foles after the team’s 3-0 start. Those of you who want Fields in the lineup will say Nagy’s decision proves that victories don’t guarantee a quarterback’s job security in Chicago. But Dalton isn’t Trubisky. He’s better. Nagy would have a hard time telling a quarterback who’s playing well in his 11th season to head for the sideline.

And why would he want to tell Dalton to take off his helmet? I’m reluctant to say that Nagy is coaching for his job this season because he lives in McCaskey World, where job status is not necessarily tied to results or ability or breathing. But let’s pretend Nagy’s job truly is on the line. The best way for a coach to stay employed in the NFL is to win games.

If Nagy wants to prove to ownership that he knows what he’s doing, succeeding with Dalton would go a long way toward establishing that football isn’t an obscure foreign language to the head coach. Nagy’s recent declaration that he knew it would take four years for his offensive system to take hold in Chicago wouldn’t be so bizarre if Dalton were to play well — kind of bizarre, just not crazy, drug-test-this-man-immediately bizarre.

The best thing that could happen to Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace is a 2021 season in which Dalton performs at a high level, the Bears win a playoff game and Fields gets brought in for a series or two each game to run packages designed specifically for him. That way, Nagy and Pace untie themselves from the tracks and avoid the locomotive bearing down on them. They don’t have to face the specter of Fields struggling as a starter and trying to explain, again, why they can’t seem to get things right.

The argument the pro-Fields lobby puts forth is that the rookie from Ohio State gives the Bears the best chance to win this season. Perhaps. But perhaps Dalton isn’t willing to go away quietly. Imagining such a scenario will cause blood-pressure readings to go up in Chicago. There’s medication for that. So far, there’s no remedy for being a Bears fan.

Thank you for joining me down this imaginary hole. Good luck finding your way out.