The old adage is that fans shouldn’t read too much into Week 1 of NFL play.
Bears fans, on the other hand, should absolutely panic.
Sure, Green Bay and Minnesota both lost and looked bad doing it. Schadenfreude is always fun, especially when Green Bay is involved. And normally, I would agree that you can’t tell a ton about a team from the first game. But in the case of the Bears, this is more like Game 37 — it was that many games ago that we figured out that the Bears needed to find a franchise QB. Again.
For once, it looked like the Bears fell-ass backwards into some luck, watching Ohio State star quarterback Justin Fields fall all the way to number 11 in the 2021 draft. “Yes!” we thought, “Everything’s coming up Milhouse!” Only of course, the brain trust in the Bears front office found a way to screw up even the acquisition of a smart, promising QB, instead of, oh, for example, a guy Ryan Pace fell in love with because he drove his grandmother’s old car. Pace, nothing if not a fan of tall, washed-up quarterbacks (Nick Foles being the notable dishwater blonde exception), had already signed free agent Andy Dalton for reasons I explained in the last sentence. And there was no way in hell Pace and head coach Matt Nagy were going to let a little thing like Fields falling in their lap alter the plan to have Dalton lead this team to 3-14.
I know people who have seen Dalton every day in training camp are going to say the Bears made the right call, that Fields needs more time and more reps before they throw him into the chaos of an NFL game. And, looking back at guys like Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes — who did sit and learn behind veteran QB1s — it, like communism, makes sense in theory. In theory.
But no matter how much Pace and Nagy want to prattle on about Dalton being the “guy” and leader in the huddle and all the other platitudes they love to throw fans’ way, it was pretty clear from Week 1 that Dalton is a mediocre quarterback. Against the Rams last night, he went 27/38 for 208 yards and finished with a QB rating of 72.9. His average pass was 5.4 yards, and he threw an interception into the end zone in the first quarter. Uh... what exactly about that performance could I NOT have gotten from Nick Foles or even a deer-in-the-headlights Mitch Trubisky? Chicago could have saved the $10 million they gave Dalton and tried to fit cornerback Kyle Fuller under the salary cap, because he’d made a much bigger impact on the field than Dalton did.
Matt Nagy’s system (which, except for brief flashes here and there, Bears fans have never actually seen work in any meaningful way), is notoriously difficult to learn. During Nagy’s time with the Bears, the only player who seemed to master it was Chase Daniel, and that was only for a quarter or two. Foles couldn’t make it work. Trubisky looked lost and checked down on nearly every play Nagy called in. And from what we saw last night, Dalton didn’t look that comfortable with it, either. If Nagy isn’t going to give up playcalling (something fans have hoped for now for 3 years running), the Bears might as well throw Justin Fields out there and see if he can make heads or tails of it, instead of using him like Taysom Hill. So, yes, it’s Week 1 and I’m already screaming for Justin Fields, because we’ve all seen this movie before. Pace and Nagy futz around and ensure each other they’re doing the right thing by sitting the kid, convinced the veteran QB they signed to a one-year deal in the offseason will be the bridge QB1 they are always looking for but can never seem to find. They’ll make the change when the Bears hit 1-4, and by that time, the rest of the team will be too banged up and demoralized for it to matter.
Most depressingly, the Bears’ defense, especially the secondary, leaked like a sieve last night, giving up 321 yards to Matt Stafford. We’ve all seen the decline of the defense coming, little by little, injury by injury, while Pace and Nagy played around with the offense like it was a new Hot Wheels toy. Now, it looks like the defense, or at least the secondary, might have hit the point of no return where, far from calling them “elite,” we can’t even call them “good.” And that’s a problem. Outside of small pockets of a season or so, the Bears have rarely had the offense and defense clicking at the same time. And, if last night is any indication, it doesn’t look like Nagy’s anemic offense can count on the D to manufacture points or keep the game close.
The days of “ruining” a young QB by starting him in his rookie season are over. Teams all over the league are getting their young QBs valuable reps and experience leading the offense, even if it means facing adversity along the way. Why not the Bears? Sitting Mitch Trubisky for Mike Glennon was the wrong decision, and sitting Justin Fields for Andy Dalton is similarly wrong.
Play the kid.