Boos rained down as Andy Dalton took the field for the Chicago Bears in the second quarter of Saturday’s preseason tilt against the Buffalo Bills at Soldier Field. Juxtapose that with the standing ovation Justin Fields received when entering the tilt in the third quarter.
Fields brings the excitement and gets fans out of their seats. Dalton is the old veteran who causes consternation.
Bears coach Matt Nagy continues to insist Dalton will be the Week 1 starter and backed up that assertion by playing the 33-year-old two full quarters Sunday against mostly Bills backups. Chicago sat a majority of its starters — including David Montgomery, Allen Robinson, Cole Kmet and some O-linemen — so the reasoning behind the extended look at Dalton wasn’t to build rapport with the first-string players.
Dalton began by leading back-to-back three-and-outs to open the contest. On seven drives through two quarters, the Bears earned just four total first downs and never more than one on any possession. Contrast that with Fields picking up four first downs on his first two drives upon entering.
Dalton struggled behind a makeshift line that highlights his lack of mobility. He never looked in rhythm with backup receivers and didn’t raise the play of those who participated in the 41-15 loss.
With the home crowd feeling like it was ready for a revolt the longer Dalton stayed in the game, the veteran hit a big play, connecting with Rodney Adams deep down the sideline for a 73-yard touchdown. Adams made a great play on the ball, and the safety stopped running, which helped the receiver get to the end zone. The 73-yarder was the Bears’ longest reception in the preseason since 2014, per NFL Research.
Nagy will point to that play as a sign of what Dalton can bring as the staff continues to promote the veteran as the Week 1 starter. Dalton finished 11-of-17 passing for 146 yards, a TD, and ended the half with an interception when his receiver slipped. Minus the big play that accounted for half his yardage, it wasn’t an inspiring outing for the veteran playing mostly with backups.
Nagy said after the game that Dalton remains the Week 1 starter. The coach noted that evaluation of the veteran isn’t being made in the preseason, though that doesn’t explain why Dalton was left in the game for a whole half Saturday.
“We need to see him in the regular season,” Nagy told reporters afterward.
Fields entered and provided juice. Once again, the rookie used his mobility, getting out of the pocket multiple times in the final two quarters and moving the chains. He led the Bears in rushing with 46 yards and displayed good accuracy on the move. He finished 9-of-19 passing for 80 yards.
The rookie’s mobility behind the backup linemen who struggled was key. Fields did have a few issues, including getting blown up when he didn’t see a blitzer. To his credit, the QB displayed toughness, staying in the contest. The hit is the type of play Fields needs to help his development. Later against a similar blitz, the young signal-caller saw it coming and released a strike before being hit.
“I’m all good,” Fields said of being slammed. “I’ve taken many harder hits than that.”
It was a fine performance from the rookie, who has plenty of gas in his arm, did a better job of sliding on runs this week, and he processed quicker than last week. He still had a few miscues with receivers and some off-target tosses, including a high throw in the red zone. It makes it more difficult to evaluate Fields, given he’s getting no reps with starters.
On six drives, Fields led two scoring marches and generated 10 first downs.
With three weeks before the season opener and one preseason game left, the hope is Fields will get reps with the starters before Week 1. Nagy suggested after the game that we could see the rookie get reps with the first-teamers next week. That’s when the true evaluation of the first-rounder can begin.
For his part, Fields isn’t worried about the QB pecking order.
“I’m just worried about getting better every day and the rest will take care of itself,” the rookie said.
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