CHICAGO – When Andy Dalton lost his starting job two months ago, he prayed.
“I lean on my faith,” Dalton said. “I knew that God had me here in Chicago for a reason. Football is part of it. There’s more to it. Being the good teammate, being a guy in the locker room that guys can lean on and staying ready for the next opportunity.”
That opportunity arrived Sunday.
Bears starting quarterback Justin Fields left the game with a rib injury early in the third quarter. Dalton came in with his team trailing, 6-0, after struggling on offense in the first half. It took him just two plays to throw a touchdown.
The 11th-year veteran found Darnell Mooney on a screen pass toward the right sideline, Mooney burst past multiple defenders and broke a tackle on the way to a 60-yard touchdown.
“I try to get in there and just be calm and go play,” Dalton said. “Had some fun out there. You can’t take any opportunity, any time, for granted. That was the thing. Just go up there and just have some fun. It was a sweet drive to go two plays and a touchdown.”
It would be wrong to say that the Bears offense used that momentum and never looked back, because the second half remained largely a struggle. The following three possessions ended with two punts and a turnover on downs. Dalton, however, engineered a breakthrough, 10-play touchdown drive that gave the Bears the lead in the final minutes.
During that fourth-quarter drive, with the Bears trailing 9-7, they faced fourth-and-6 play just over midfield with the game on the line. They kept the offense on the field and the crowd was on edge – then left tackle Jason Peters jumped early, garnering a false start penalty.
It could’ve been crushing. Instead, on fourth-and-11 now, Dalton sat in the pocket and took a licking as he released a perfect deep ball to receiver Marquise Goodwin for a 49-yard touchdown.
“Andy, obviously, he checked it and just gave me a go ball and gave me a chance to make a play, threw it to me, and we connected,” Goodwin said.
Dalton said the Ravens were in a Cover 0 look, meaning it was man-to-man coverage with no help from the safeties. Goodwin simply beat his man.
It’s a shame the play was overshadowed by the defensive woes that followed. The Ravens drove 72 yards in 1:19 of game time to score the game-winning touchdown with less than a minute remaining.
The ups and downs in this game were breathtaking. It must have been more so for Dalton, a man who came to Chicago expecting to be a starting QB and who has waited two months to play in an NFL game.
“The position I’m in is important, regardless of if you’re playing or you’re not, and so that’s what I’ve been leaning on,” Dalton said.