Justin Fields returned to practice for the Chicago Bears on Wednesday afternoon, but Andy Dalton took the starter reps, increasing the chance the veteran will be the quarterback Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals.
Fields was listed as limited in his first practice since suffering fractured ribs in a Nov. 21 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
“I like where he’s at,” Nagy said before practice.
Even so, Dalton taking reps with the starters is at least a sign the Bears are preparing to roll with him a week after he threw for 317 yards in a 16-14 victory over the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. It marked the first time this season the Bears eclipsed 300 yards passing.
Nagy has been clear the depth chart remains unchanged and Fields is the starter when healthy. If he’s not fully cleared, it leaves the door open for Dalton, who has completed 64.3% of his passes this season for 788 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions. Neither quarterback was made available to media Wednesday, which is normally the day of the week when the starter talks.
If the Bears (4-7) want to keep alive their playoff hopes, they have little margin for error in the remaining six weeks. They’re one game behind Washington (5-6) for the seventh and final playoff spot in the conference, but six other teams have five or four victories. It’s a jumbled mess of teams trying to claw their way back to .500.
It’s at least worth wondering if Nagy and staff believe Dalton gives the Bears a better opportunity to win than Fields if the rookie is battling through pain.
“With Andy being able to come out here and get these reps today, it’ll allow us to really continue each day to see, ‘Justin, where you at?’ ” Nagy said before practice. “ ‘What’s your pain today? How is it when you’re throwing?’ We’ve got to be able to say, ‘Is this something that we feel that he’s going to be the best he can be for us to help win us that game?’ Or is it going to hurt him more or hurt us? As the week goes on, we’re working through all that.”
The Cardinals are sifting through their own injury issues. Quarterback Kyler Murray (ankle) and wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (hamstring) have missed the last three games. With his team coming off its bye, Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury said Monday that he was “hopeful” both would return Sunday at Soldier Field. Murray and Hopkins were limited at Cardinals practice Wednesday.
The Cardinals have the best record in the NFL at 9-2. They are 6-0 on the road, having played well defensively all season.
The defense has been especially dominant away from home. The Cardinals’ road wins have come by margins of 25, 12, 17, 23, 14 and 10 points. They have not given up more than 20 points in a road game and are the third team in league history to win at least their first six road games by 10 points or more, joining the 1968 Dallas Cowboys (seven) and 1936 Bears (six).
The Cardinals are ranked fifth in total defense, fourth in passing defense, third on third down and fourth in scoring defense, so whether it’s Fields or Dalton, a struggling offense will have a tall task. With any luck, Fields will be back in action soon as the Bears remain optimistic they will see signs of development in the stretch run.
“We’ve got to make sure medically he’s in a place where he’s safe,” Nagy said. “It’s important for him to continue to grow off of that momentum that he had those last couple games. You know we got into that (first) half against Baltimore and I thought (the Ravens) did a good job and then unfortunately (Fields) got hurt.
“I really felt like those last two games prior to that he had some moments in there where you could feel him growing. You saw him in practice — really starting to see it. So this is a part of life of playing quarterback in this league.”
Source: Berkshire mont