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Fields? Dalton? Foles? In Week 18, what’s the difference?

A season that started with a flawed apprenticeship plan for Justin Fields will end with Andy Dalton starting against the Vikings on Sunday — and not much direction at quarterback for the Bears.

Bears quarterback Andy Dalton (14) celebrates a four-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Darnell Mooney in the Bears’ 29-3 victory over the Giants last week at Soldier Field.
Bears quarterback Andy Dalton (14) celebrates a four-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Darnell Mooney in the Bears’ 29-3 victory over the Giants last week at Soldier Field.
David Banks/AP Photos

A Bears quarterback situation in flux heading into the season finale is a fitting conclusion to a ‘‘plan’’ that was flawed from the beginning.

With rookie Justin Fields on the reserve/COVID-19 list, Andy Dalton will start against the Vikings on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium. And the shame of it is that it really doesn’t matter.

Even if the game had playoff implications, it’s hard to tell which quarterback — Fields, Dalton or Nick Foles — would give the Bears the best chance to win. You could argue it’s Foles, who came in ice-cold against the Seahawks in Week 16 after sitting all season and, once he warmed up, led the Bears to a 25-24 victory. Dalton has the most recent starting experience. And Fields is still a wild card at this point.

And even with the Bears out of the playoff picture at 6-10, whether Fields starts in the final game almost elicits a yawn. He’s still a legitimate franchise-quarterback prospect, but — outside of a few flashes here and there — the buzz has died down. And one game isn’t going to make a difference. He’ll be learning a new offense in another month.

It’s so typical of the Bears that the best thing that has happened to them on the quarterback front in years and arguably decades — general manager Ryan Pace’s move up in the 2021 draft to select Fields with the 11th overall pick — has dissolved into the muck of another disappointing season. Can’t they do anything right?

There’s still hope, of course, that Fields will be everything the Bears envisioned. But it’s going to take change to get him on that course. From the day the Bears decided to move on from Mitch Trubisky, the quarterback situation has been managed about as well as you would expect the Bears to manage a quarterback situation: not very well.

When Pace signed Dalton and drafted Fields, coach Matt Nagy planned for Fields to spend a one-year apprenticeship under Dalton, just as rookie Patrick Mahomes did behind veteran Alex Smith when Nagy was with the Chiefs.

It was unlikely to work and did not. The flaw in the apprenticeship plan is that it only works if the first-round rookie can watch and learn in a good offense, usually behind an elite quarterback.

• When Mahomes sat during the 2017 season, Smith was in his fifth season in Andy Reid’s offense and the Chiefs were a well-oiled machine. They finished sixth in points scored and fifth in total yards, and Smith led the NFL in passer rating (104.7).

• Aaron Rodgers sat behind Hall of Famer Brett Favre for three seasons. But in the final season of his apprenticeship in 2007, the Packers were fourth in points and second in yards and reached the NFC Championship Game.

• When Philip Rivers served his apprenticeship as a rookie in 2004 with the Chargers, he sat behind Drew Brees. The Chargers were third in points and 10th in yards and went 12-4.

That’s not cherry-picking. Those are the only three first-round quarterbacks in the last 20 years who didn’t play most or all of their rookie season and ended up making the Pro Bowl. All three might end up in the Hall of Fame.

In the face of failure, Nagy is painting the Bears’ quarterback picture as best he can. He’s grateful the Bears have had three quarterbacks they can win with in Fields (2-8), Dalton (3-2) and Foles (1-0). The reality is that, in a bad offense, a team that has three quarterbacks has none.