Andy Dalton was the leader the Bears needed — but it stops there

Andy Dalton was the leader the Bears needed — but it stops there

Bears quarterback Andy Dalton and coach Matt Nagy share a fist bump Thursday. | Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

Justin Fields, whom hurt his ribs against the Ravens, needs to start the minute he’s healthy enough to do so — as soon as Dec. 5 against the Cardinals.

DETROIT —Andy Dalton stood in front of his teammates and coaches on Wednesday night at the Bears’ team hotel. After the most game chaotic week at Halas Hall in years — an amazing, statement, considering it was only three days — the team’s deposed starting-quarterback-turned-injury-replacement issued a message.

“Just go out there and get our swag back,” receiver Darnell Mooney said. “Have fun. Just let everything loose. No stressing out, no tension or anything.”

A one-source report about coach Matt Nagy’s pending firing — which turned out to be incorrect — ratcheted up the tension at Halas Hall on Tuesday and Wednesday.

“To get the guys’ eyes and ears open, someone had to step up and say something,” outside linebacker Robert Quinn said.

The 11-year veteran had lived through coaching drama in Cincinnati. He also appreciated the value of an opportunity — for the Bears playing on Thanksgiving, and for himself getting his first start in 10 weeks.

“I just felt like it was something in talking about what we needed in this moment,” Dalton said.

Wednesday, Dalton was the leader Nagy needed at his lowest point. Thursday, he was the steadying force the Bears needed under center in a 16-13 win against the lowly Lions.

Nagy can’t let either performance tempt him into playing Dalton any longer than he needs to, though. Justin Fields, whom NFL Network said cracked his ribs against the Ravens, needs to start the minute he’s healthy enough to do so — as soon as Dec. 5 against the Cardinals.

Nagy said this week that Fields is his starter when he’s healthy. That’s reassuring, considering how much Nagy struggled to make the same declaration earlier this season. Fields is the future of the franchise, no matter who is the head coach in 2022.

Thursday, Dalton provided a tourniquet. He was as dependable on the field as he was in front of a ballroom the night before, completing 24-of-39 passes for 317 yards — the most for a Bears quarterback since Nick Foles had 335 on Nov. 8, 2020. He had an 85.1 passer rating, committing the unpardonable sin of throwing an interception in the end zone.

With considerable help from the bumbling Lions, he orchestrated an 18-play, 69-yard drive that ran the last 8:30 off the clock and ended in Cairo Santos’ game-winning field goal.

“There were times, things that we want back,” Nagy said. “But in the end that last drive shows who they are. … To not give them the ball back, to win the game there is a credit to Andy and the rest of those guys.”

Dalton did that without a single live play with the starters in practice this week — the Bears held only walk-throughs — or, really, any since Fields took over.

“Some of the things we had worked on in the summer — we kind of had chemistry,” said Mooney, who led the Bears with 123 receiving yards. “So it was kind of easy to be on the same page during the game.”

Nagy had asked Dalton to speak Wednesday after the veteran spoke up during a quarterbacks meeting. It made for a compelling alliance: Dalton rallying the team around the man who told him he’d be the starter this season, then kept Fields in the role even once he recovered from a bone bruise in his knee.

“I’ve been through a lot this year,” Dalton said. “And I think just kind of how I’ve handled things, and how I’ve gone about staying true to who I am and who I was created to be. I think that allows me to have a voice on this team, regardless of if I was playing or if I wasn’t playing. It just happened to be that I was playing this week.

“So I felt like with the experience I’ve had, everything that I’ve been through, I feel I can talk to guys. And they’ll listen.”

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