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Praising faintly: Andy Dalton better than expected in Bears’ loss

Rookie Justin Fields scores his first NFL touchdown.

Bears quarterback Andy Dalton runs against the Rams on Sunday night.
Bears quarterback Andy Dalton runs against the Rams on Sunday night.
Harry How/Getty Images

It’s hard to understand why anyone would have anticipated a good outcome for Andy Dalton and the Bears on Sunday night. They were playing the Rams, who have a big, bad defense led by a very big and bad Aaron Donald.

The Bears mostly had the same offensive line it had in the preseason, and nothing that had happened between then and now changed the O-line’s inherent very-not-goodness.

The plays for Dalton looked exactly like the plays coach Matt Nagy used to call for Mitch Trubisky — short, safe passes causing no harm to friend or foe. On a third-and-14 in the first quarter, Dalton threw a pass to Darnell Mooney four yards short of the first-down marker. Also reminiscent of life with Mitch.

So you true believers thought, what, exactly? That Dalton would somehow overcome all of that? That his backup, rookie Justin Fields, the apple of every Bears fan’s eye, would surprise the Rams with his speed and ability in spot duty?

I’m envious of your ardor, whomever you are.

Also, you weren’t completely wrong.

Dalton led a 16-play, 81-yard touchdown drive that ate up 9 minutes, 32 seconds of the third quarter. And the score came on a three-yard run by Fields. That’s a win-win in Bears World.

Just not a victory. The Rams got that, a 34-14 decision. But the Bears’ offense showed more mettle Sunday than had previously been detected, taking advantage of all the running lanes and underneath routes the Rams offered. That might be faint praise, but the closer game day approached, the more it had ugly blowout written all over it.

Nothing was settled Sunday night in terms of the quarterback position. I’m not here to argue that Dalton should obviously be the starter for the immediate future and beyond. Overall, Sunday’s dog of a game was more arf than art. I’m here to say that neither Dalton nor Fields had any real shot against the Rams’ defense. Zero. So if anyone was going to take a beating physically and emotionally, you wanted it to be the quarterback holding the position until Fields is ready. You have to be cruel to Dalton to be kind to the rookie.

If you came into the game thinking you’d be able to make a final judgment on Dalton based on his performance against Donald & Co., you were being unrealistic and unfair. The Rams are too good. But Dalton exceeded low expectations. He completed 27 of 38 passes for 206 yards. He didn’t have a touchdown pass. Meh, not yuck. Again, faint praise. Better than no praise.

Dalton had a pass tipped and then intercepted on his first series as a Chicago Bear. Fields saw his first action that same series, throwing a nine-yard completion. The idea was to get him some experience and to give the Rams something to think about when he came in the game.

Ironically, it was Dalton’s feet that made a difference on the Bears’ first touchdown. He ran for nine yards on a scramble to the Rams’ 3-yard line, setting up David Montgomery’s touchdown. It cut the lead to 13-7 in the second quarter.

Nagy’s idea all along was to start Dalton more than a few games this season to give Fields a chance to ease his way into NFL life. The approach has been widely ridiculed, but after Sunday’s opener, his prudence looks beyond wise.

“We knew where and when we were going to use [Fields], and we stuck to that plan,’’ Nagy said.

Let’s not get carried away praising the coach. We were reminded Sunday night that the Bears aren’t very well coached. We know this not by the fact that the Rams stunned the defense on a 67-yard touchdown pass from Matthew Stafford to Van Jefferson on Los Angeles’ first possession but by two Bears defenders, including veteran Eddie Jackson, forgetting to touch Jefferson after he fell following the catch. Jefferson got up and scored. A disciplined team doesn’t do that.

A disciplined team doesn’t blow a coverage and allow a 56-yard touchdown to a ridiculously wide-open Cooper Kupp to open the second half.

“It’s something we can’t have happen,’’ Nagy said.

In good news, Nagy finally has discovered a running game after two seasons of pretending he knew what running the ball was. Montgomery was great Sunday night, pounding that imposing Rams defense for 108 yards on 16 carries.

In bad news, the night couldn’t have gone worse for the Bears’ defense. Stafford, making his Rams’ debut after 12 years in Detroit, threw for 321 yards and three touchdowns.

All in all, though, not bad. At 0-1, the Bears are tied for first in the NFC North.