Former Bears Coach Blames Andy Dalton's Injury for Derailing Fields

Vince Carbonneau
May 19, 2024  (11:19)

Justin Fields with the Bears
Photo credit: ESPN

Former Bears Coach Says Andy Dalton Injury Ruined Justin Fields' Career

The career of Justin Fields in Chicago was one filled with what-ifs. Perhaps the one that isn't discussed enough is what would've happened if Matt Nagy and Ryan Pace had managed to stick around longer than his rookie season. They would've stayed committed to developing him and certainly not blown up the team like Ryan Poles did a year later. It is a fair question. There are multiple layers to it, but one former Bears coach believes everything started slowly rolling downhill after Andy Dalton got injured.
For those who don't remember, the original plan the Bears had was straightforward. Nagy wanted to duplicate the blueprint implemented by the Kansas City Chiefs with Patrick Mahomes. They sat him during his rookie season behind established veteran Alex Smith, giving him a chance to learn and adapt to the NFL's speed and complexity. A year later, he won MVP. Dalton was a proven veteran with a long, productive track record. He'd keep the team competitive in 2021 while Fields learned.
Then, in the second game of the season, Dalton injured his knee while scrambling.
That thrust Fields into the lineup. One former Bears coach told Tyler Dunne of *Go Long* that development not only sank the team's season but ruined the young quarterback's career. He wasn't ready.
In week 2, Dalton took off on a 14-yard scramble and hopped awkwardly out of bounds. Nobody touched him but his knee buckled on the tarp covering, causing a bone bruise that thrust Fields into the starting lineup a full season prematurely. «He was not ready at all!» one assistant coach recalls. «No. No. No. No. Not even close to being ready. Not even close.» The Bears were so determined to keep Fields on the sideline, they even considered making him the No. 3 during the summer. In the end, coaches viewed scout-team reps as the No. 2 as too valuable.
Now, with one sideline slip, he was the starter.
«If Andy Dalton doesn't go down, we're still there,» this ex-assistant says. «That was a good team. We would've won 10 games.»
Andy Dalton winning ten games isn't outlandish.
He went 3-3 as a starter that season. There was no question he was the better passer of the two. If he'd been able to play against teams like Cleveland, Tampa Bay, Green Bay, and San Francisco, the Bears might've been more competitive. He was never able to get into a groove. Fields predictably struggled, going 2-8. The 6-11 finish doomed Nagy and Pace, who went into that season already on thin ice. One can't help but wonder what might've happened if they'd been able to execute their original plan for Fields.
If he'd had a full year to acclimate to the league in Nagy's system without the constant beatings he took as a rookie, maybe he would've been far better prepared. Others think his slow processing speed as a passer would've caught up to him eventually. No amount of sitting would've fixed that. Fans will never know. There is no question the Andy Dalton injury was the catalyst for everything falling apart. Nobody was willing to admit it at the time. Perhaps down the road, people may see it as a blessing in disguise.
MAY 19   |   72 ANSWERS
Former Bears Coach Blames Andy Dalton's Injury for Derailing Fields

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