There’s a lot of earned skepticism when it comes to Nagy’s handling of quarterbacks, and his moves in the opener raised more doubt.
The best part of rookie quarterback Justin Fields getting in for five snaps in the Bears’ season-opening loss to the Rams is that his role should only increase from here on its way to him becoming the full-time starter.
It’s what everyone — except Andy Dalton — wants.
Five plays against the Rams could turn into 10 or more and ideally at least one uninterrupted series, though coach Matt Nagy dodged that topic Monday, against the Bengals. Next thing you know, maybe soon, they come out of halftime with Fields and it’s all him from there.
Until then, everyone’s wearily wondering whether Nagy will make the right call between Dalton and Fields at the right time.
The skepticism is earned after he declared Dalton his starter months ago without even waiting to see how Fields looked. A year ago Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace collaborated to bring in Nick Foles, then started Mitch Trubisky, then went to Foles in Week 3, then back to Trubisky for the final six games.
It’s not that people don’t trust the plan. It’s that they aren’t sure if there is one.
Additional apprehension accumulated as Nagy unveiled his strategy of using Fields sporadically during the 34-14 loss to the Rams, which seems disadvantageous for both quarterbacks.
While it was great to see Fields play, it reeked of Nagy being caught in the middle of the veteran to whom he made a promise and the rookie he knows is more than ready. Fields was hurried in cold in the middle of drives, and any rhythm Dalton hoped to develop was derailed.
Is that really the best idea?
“I don’t think that’s a bad question at all,” Nagy said. “I think that’s real. When you go through these situations, you have to look at all of that stuff because you want to make sure that you’re taking care of both guys the right way.”
Answering critical questions that emptily does nothing to reassure Chicago that it can trust him to navigate a complicated situation. It really shouldn’t be that complicated, by the way, but Nagy and the Bears got tangled up because they were so desperate to sign Dalton.
On that note, in the spirit of Fields reminding booing fans that “Andy’s a human being, too,” it’s obvious after just one game that this can’t possibly be what Dalton expected.
Last week, he summed up his turbulent path by saying, “Regardless of everything that’s gone on, we’re here at Week 1, and this is exactly what I wanted,” but it can’t be.
He walked into second-and-12 and second-and-nine after two Fields cameos. On one, Nagy had pulled him after a 19-yard connection with Marquise Goodwin — the Bears’ longest pass play of the night — with a face-mask penalty tacked on to get the offense past midfield.
The play before Fields’ rushing touchdown, Dalton converted a third-and-eight on an 11-yard pass to Jimmy Graham.
He came out during the opening drive for a Fields play, then returned on third-and-one, and tight end Cole Kmet committed a false start. Then Dalton threw an interception in the end zone. Nagy said the quarterback rotation wasn’t a factor.
It’s not that any one of those plays was a bad time to use Fields, but it’s certainly detrimental to Dalton.
“It doesn’t affect me at all,” he said without elaboration.
That’s the right answer when somebody’s paying you $10 million. But Dalton has been in the NFL more than a decade, and even the Bengals — a perpetual punch-line franchise — never pulled something like this.
Whether Nagy keeps his job hinges enormously on how he handles Fields. Nothing matters more. It’s on him to develop an incredible talent and have perfect timing when he makes the switch permanently. He has been up against a mountain of doubt about whether he’ll get it right and didn’t do anything to chisel it down in the opener.