Andy Dalton will start Sunday’s season finale against the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Bears coach Matt Nagy announced Friday.
Dalton will start in place of rookie quarterback Justin Fields, who the team placed on the COVID-19 list Thursday. The plan had been for Fields to start Sunday in what would have been his first start since injuring his ankle Dec. 20.
But COVID-19 threw a wrench in those plans.
Instead, Dalton will start his second consecutive game, looking to end the Bears’ season on a three-game winning streak. This will be Dalton’s sixth start of the season. The Bears are 3-2 in his previous five starts.
“It’s a credit, too, to Andy always being prepared and ready,” Nagy said Friday. “He had a good day yesterday, a good day today.”
Nick Foles will serve as the team’s backup Sunday, Nagy said.
Being a vaccinated player, it’s possible Fields could test out of COVID-19 protocol before the team flies to Minnesota on Saturday. He would need to be symptom-free and receive a negative test. Even if he does, he has missed two days of preparation, Nagy said.
“The big thing is getting the practice reps,” Nagy said Friday. “That’s the biggest thing the last two days.”
Bears fans will have to grapple with the fact that they have seen the last of Fields’ rookie season. Any hopes of ending on a high note in the season finale are over.
Instead, fans and pundits alike are left to analyze the few glimpses of greatness he showed this season, notably the second half against Pittsburgh on Nov. 8 and the first half against Green Bay on Dec. 12.
Fields finished the season with a 2-8 record as a starter. He totaled 1,870 passing yards with a 58.9% completion percentage to go along with seven touchdown passes and 10 interceptions. He also rushed for 420 yards and two touchdowns on 72 carries.
“If it’s your first year, this is what you take from it: that things can change and expect the unexpected,” Nagy said. “For Justin, again, there’s so many different dynamics to him learning as a rookie to playing the position to coming in in the role he was at at the start of the year, to becoming the starter, to any injuries, to learning how to watch tape, to building relationships with your coaches, to building relationships with your teammates. He’s done a phenomenal job, and he’s gonna continue to grow as is only normal, but with time.”
Certainly this seasons’ downward spiral for the Bears wasn’t all on Fields’ shoulders. The quarterback made his share of rookie mistakes, but the offense as a whole has struggled whether it was Dalton or Fields in at quarterback.
Dalton said Friday that it has been tough to find a rhythm when he has been in and out of the lineup so often during this season.
“It’s been up and down,” Dalton said of his season. “There’s a lot that’s gone on and a lot of things that were not expected at times, but it’s one of those things that you have to learn and grow from each experience that you have and that’s just kind of where I’m at.”
This may also be the end of the Fields-Nagy pairing. If Nagy is fired after the season finale, the search for the next coach will center largely around finding a coach who can maximize Fields’ talents.
Nagy said Friday that he didn’t give it a second thought when he walked off the practice field for what might have been his final practice as the Bears’ head coach.