Week 2 is just too early for a “must-win” for any of the NFL’s 32 teams, and this weekend isn’t going to dictate how the rest of the year plays out.
But it probably will be one of the bigger games of starting quarterback Andy Dalton’s career. It could very well begin writing his final chapter.
Dalton is not a franchise quarterback or even one who is going to go out and win games for you, but he is one you can win games with. As such, that makes him better than at least 70-to-75% of the quarterbacks that have ever led teams.
Shouldn’t that have earned him at least “his moment” since he was signed to be the Bears’ starter and leader on offense?
Less than six weeks after Dalton became a Bear, the team drafted Justin Fields. It has been all Fields, all the time, since then.
We all know there are no ifs about whether it is going to become Fields’ team, it is just when.
But it seems only fair that before it happens, this Sunday becomes Dalton’s moment. It’s his chance to put his mark on and help direct the history that is about to be written.
It is likely the home crowd will be chanting Fields’ name when Dalton is introduced and takes the field, and they almost certainly will be if he doesn’t find the end zone with the Bears’ first possession.
He appears uncowed, however, and actually excited to make his home debut.
“We’re excited for this home-field advantage,” Dalton said. “Hopefully it will be loud and make it hard for the offense for the Bengals when they’re out there.”
It is also a chance for Dalton to compete against the franchise that birthed him in the NFL, oversaw his greatest success over his first five seasons, and then orchestrated his decline.
He is trying to minimize that aspect of the game as best he can.
“I got a chance to go against them last year in Cincinnati (with Dallas),” Dalton said. “Luckily I kind of got that out of the way last year and now I’m just focused on doing what we can to win the game.”
But asked if that means he isn’t motivated a bit more to do well against these guys he quickly added, “Well, I wouldn’t say that. My wife and I, we poured a lot into the city, into the community, into the organization and everything.”
Dalton also noted, “And we won last year, which was nice, too.”
Now can Dalton win here?
If he is given more to work with than the remarkably skinny game plan last Sunday night and gets hot early, he isn’t going to silence the Fields cult, that bed’s already been made, but he could turn the noise to cheers and a solid 60 minutes that leads to a win could turn his team’s fortunes 180 degrees.
Dalton appears to face three options.
It appears he still has the full support of Matt Nagy and his teammates, but should he lay an egg to compare with the one Mitch Trubisky dropped in Atlanta last season, no one would be shocked if he got the same quick hook.
That’s his worst case.
If he is efficient and plays well enough for his team to win he could keep his job well into the season and build his job app for another QB-needy team looking for a transition guy next year.
Or, if the Bears’ new track team proves to be what the doctor ordered, his left tackles start coming out of sick bay, and the offense takes off, he could actually set himself up for a somewhat lucrative multi-year deal with another middle-aged, mid-tier team and a chance to game manage them to success.
I am not a fan of Dalton the QB, but I am a fan of the man and the class he’s handled himself with these last few months.
He’s earned his day in the sun. It seems Sunday is clearly it.
It’s not a must-win, but the Bears need it bad, and it’s fair to say that right now Dalton does, too.
I can’t wait to see if Bears fans give him the chance.