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Why isn’t Justin Fields starting? Bears shelter rookie QB behind starter Andy Dalton


The first Sunday Night Football game of the year will showcase the Bears vs. Rams. The Bears, instead of starting the rookie quarterback Justin Fields, will start Andy Dalton, the 33-year-old NFL veteran who signed with Chicago back in March after one season with the Cowboys. Dalton started nine games last season in Dallas following the injury to Dak Prescott, throwing 14 touchdowns and 8 interceptions while leading the Cowboys to a 4-5 record in his starts.

During the preseason, Bears coach Matt Nagy made it clear that it was always the team’s intention to start Dalton at the beginning of the season, regardless of the two quarterbacks’ performances leading into the first regular season game. They signed the veteran signal caller back in March to a one-year deal at $10.1 million and given his extensive experience as a starter — he started 133 games over nine years with the Bengals from 2011 to 2019 — Dalton certainly looks the part of your typical stop-gap solution while the Bears wait until Fields is ready to take over.

Here’s more information on why Fields will not be starting Week 1.

MORE: When will Justin Fields start for Bears?

Preseason performance

Fields, the Ohio State grad drafted by the Bears with the 11th overall pick in this year’s draft, performed well this preseason, completing 30-of-49 passes for 276 yards. He also threw for three touchdowns and zero interceptions. Additionally, he rushed for 92 yards in his three games played.

Dalton, meanwhile, played in two preseason games, completing 13-of-21 passes for 164 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He only logged two drives in his first preseason game, resulting in two 3-and-outs. His second time out wasn’t much better as the Bears managed just six points on seven drives to go along with three more 3-and-outs. 

Nagy acknowledged this issue but downplayed any concern that Dalton’s underwhelming preseason performance would carry over into the regular season.

“I understand the part of, you know, we haven’t been getting first downs and there’s been 3-and-outs, I get that,” Nagy said following the Bears’ Week 2 preseason game. “But really, when you look at play-by-play-by-play and what he’s doing, he’s making really good decisions.”

Meanwhile, Fields won over plenty of fans during the preseason, as his jersey became the fourth-most sold jersey since Aug. 1, even beating out former MVP and Super Bowl champ Patrick Mahomes. Not bad for a rookie who isn’t yet a starter.

MORE: Mac Jones, Justin Fields top Patrick Mahomes on NFL jersey sales

Why is Justin Fields not starting?

On Aug. 24, Nagy officially announced that Dalton would be the Bears starter. Fans were surprised the coach made his decision weeks in advance before the regular season began. However, this decision didn’t come as a surprise to either Dalton or Fields.

“The stock for us in Andy is going to see what he does for us during the season,” Nagy said. “We have to see what Andy can do during the season with this team and with these guys. That has been our plan this whole entire time.”

Bases on Nagy’s comments, there wasn’t much of a decision to be made as the Bears long ago opted to take things slowly with Fields. It seems that they will give him more than a one game chance as of now, depending on what happens during their matchup against the Rams who undoubtedly would have been a difficult first opponent for the rookie.

MORE: Andy Dalton won’t ‘look over his shoulder’ at Justin Fields

What was Justin Fields’ reaction?

Fields hasn’t made too many public comments about the decision, and he seems to remain positive about his place on the team.

During a press conference in early Aug., Fields stated that “greatness doesn’t happen overnight, it’s a process.” 

Fields was more vocal after the Aug. 21 game against the Bills. The Chicago crowd gave Fields a standing ovation, but when Dalton ran on the field, “boo’s” filled the stadium. Fields immediately took to defending the QB1 after the game.

“I really think it’s kind of disrespectful to Andy, them cheering my name out like that,” Fields said during the post-game press conference. “Just cheer him on, you know? That’s not helping Andy play better, to cheer my name. That’s not doing none of that.”

There’s little doubt Fields would rather start, especially considering his place among a deep, high-profile rookie class. Mac Jones beat out Cam Newton for the Patriots’ starting job while Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson will start immediately for the Jaguars and Jets, respectively. Like Fields, Trey Lance will not be starting in Week 1 as the 49ers take a similarly patient approach grooming him behind Jimmy Garoppolo. Despite three other rookies earning the Week 1 nod, the Bears are staying true to their plan.

MORE: Grading NFL rookie QB preseason debuts

“We feel really good with where Justin is at,” Nagy said. “I would say for sure that for his level of where a lot of rookies are at this point in time, he passed that test. So that’s a good thing. We know that. But now it’s just growth for every one of these quarterbacks, Justin included. Everybody has a different story on how they get to the top. Every quarterback in this league has a different story. There’s good examples of guys that have played from Day 1 as a rookie. There’s great examples of that. There’s also great examples of guys who haven’t played from Day 1 and they’ve sat for a little bit.”

When will Fields make his NFL debut?

There is no clear date when Fields will start as the Bears quarterback, but there is a lot of speculation. The most popular rumor is his debut being Week 4, when the Bears return to Chicago to host the Lions. An easier opponent with a home crowd seems like the perfect formula for Fields’ debut.

But, anything can happen. If Dalton underperforms more than Nagy and the Bears would like, then maybe Fields will start earlier than expected. The other extreme would be if Dalton overperforms and the Bears feel confident with him staying as the starter for a while. Regardless, it is widely believed that Fields will make his debut at some point this season.

Bears schedule 2021

Week Date Opponent Time (ET)
1 Sept. 12 @Rams 8:20 p.m.
2 Sept. 19 Bengals 1:00 p.m.
3 Sept. 26 @Browns 1:00 p.m.
4 Oct. 3 Lions 1:00 p.m.
5 Oct. 10 @Raiders 4:05 p.m.
6 Oct. 17 Packers 1:00 p.m.
7 Oct. 24 @Buccaneers 4:25 p.m.
8 Oct. 31 49ers 1:00 p.m.
9 Nov. 8 @Steelers 8:15 p.m.
10 BYE
11 Nov. 21 Ravens 1:00 p.m.
12 Nov. 25 @Lions 12:30 p.m.
13 Dec. 5 Cardinals 1:00 p.m.
14 Dec. 12 @Packers 8:20 p.m.
15 Dec. 20 Vikings 8:15 p.m.
16 Dec. 26 @Seahawks 4:05 p.m.
17 Jan. 2 Giants 1:00 p.m.
18 Jan. 9 @Vikings 1:00 p.m.




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