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Justin Fields will make his 1st NFL start Sunday when the Chicago Bears play the Browns in Cleveland

Chicago Tribune
Chicago Tribune
 30 days ago
Bill Wade played in 59 games for the Bears from 1961 to 1966. JOHN SMIERCIAK/CHICAGO TRIBUNE

Naming rookie Justin Fields the starting quarterback for Week 3 wasn’t in the Chicago Bears’ plans, but Andy Dalton’s left knee injury forced the team’s hand.

Matt Nagy took the unusual step of meeting with the media Wednesday at Halas Hall — the coach usually doesn’t speak on Wednesdays — to announce the decision three days after a 20-17 victory against the Cincinnati Bengals at Soldier Field. Dalton was knocked out of the game in the second quarter with what NFL Media reported is a bone bruise. Dalton is week to week.

That means Fields, the former Ohio State star and first-round draft pick, will make his first NFL start Sunday against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium. It will be the earliest a rookie quarterback starts for the Bears since Kyle Orton in Week 1 of 2005 at Washington.

Nick Foles will serve as the backup, and Nagy said he doesn’t anticipate Dalton being placed on injured reserve — at least right now. New IR rules this season make it possible for a player to return after missing only three weeks, leaving open the possibility Dalton could be back for Week 5 at the Las Vegas Raiders.

Nagy wouldn’t put a timeline on Dalton’s availability, but it’s expected he will miss a minimum of two weeks. Of course, the Bears could change their mind before Saturday’s 3 p.m. deadline to move Dalton to IR for this week.

“When Andy is healthy, our plan continues for him to be the starter,” Nagy said. “I know there was a little miscommunication with that (on Monday), so I apologize for that.

“When that time comes, there’s a lot of stuff that can happen between now and then. I don’t really want to go there other than just saying when Andy is healthy, he’s our starter.”

Fields played five snaps in the season-opening road loss to the Los Angeles Rams and then played more than half of the game against the Bengals. He completed 6 of 13 passes for 60 yards with an interception deep in Bears territory that allowed the Bengals to make it a three-point game in the closing minutes.

Fields wasn’t surprised when Nagy informed him because of Dalton’s status. Fields already had been doing his best to eliminate distractions. He will get starter reps beginning Wednesday afternoon, and the rest of the game plan will be installed as the week goes along.

“Just getting reps with the offense instead of just working with the scout offense, it’s definitely going to have me more prepared and I’m excited,” Fields said. “I think (my teammates) have a lot of trust in me. Them having my back and having confidence in me that I’m going to go out there and execute, that’s kept me comfortable and kept me poised and confident.

“I used to not be this way. I definitely learned from past experiences, past first starts. I still remember my first start in high school, I was nervous as can be. I think being more this way — just being stoic and being even-keeled — just keeps my mind calm and allows me to think more.”

Now the challenge is crafting a game plan Fields is comfortable with in relation to what the coaching staff believes will be successful against the Browns.

“We were able to get a feel for the things we like or don’t like with him in training camp and then in the preseason,” Nagy said. “Now we get together and talk about the things we think he does well for us, and you’ve got to put everything into play, everything about a first game into play and be able to give him and our offense the best opportunity possible.

“We understand the significance of not giving him too much so he plays slow. We all want Justin to play really well. We know on the front end, there’s going to be mistakes. That’s going to happen. We understand that but we’ve got to try to reduce and eliminate those as we go throughout the year.”

Fields said it “sucks” that his starting opportunity coincides with Dalton being injured.

“But I believe everything happens for reason,” Fields said. “So we might not know what that reason is now, but I guess we’ll find out as time goes on.

“Every time I go in, I have that mindset (that it’s an opportunity to win the job). Of course I’m going to go out there on Sunday and play my best and just try to come out with the win, and that’s my main focus. My main focus isn’t winning the starting job. I think that’s going to come with time.”

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