LAKE FOREST, Ill. — While Justin Fields returned to practice for the Chicago Bears, Andy Dalton got the first-team snaps on Wednesday.
Whether the prized rookie or veteran will start at quarterback Sunday when the NFC West-leading Arizona Cardinals visit Soldier Field remains to be seen.
“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?’" coach Matt Nagy said. “‘What’s your pain today? How is it when you’re throwing?’ Once you go through the day of practice, however much it is, we’ve got to be able to say, ‘OK, for us going into it, is this something that we feel that he’s gonna be the best he can be for us to help win us that game, or is it gonna hurt him more or hurt us?' As the week goes on, we’re working through all that.”
Fields had not practiced since he cracked ribs in the loss to Baltimore on Nov. 21 and was replaced by Dalton. The three-time Pro Bowler led a late go-ahead scoring drive before the Ravens pulled it out and, with a short turnaround, started in a Thanksgiving victory at winless Detroit.
When Fields is healthy, he remains Chicago's No. 1 quarterback. The No. 11 overall draft pick strung together several solid outings prior to the Baltimore game.
Dalton, who opened the season as the starter, threw for a Bears season-high 317 yards against Detroit. He led an 18-play drive that ate up 8:30 and ended with Cairo Santos' winning field goal.
“There’s different calls that they like, different checks that they like, different plays that one may like more than the other. So it’s just being able to know, if Andy’s out there he’s probably going to check to this," receiver Damiere Byrd said. "Or if Justin’s out there, he’s probably going to lean more to this. So being able to be ready for that.”
Whoever starts for the Bears (4-7) on Sunday will face a huge challenge. The Cardinals (9-2) boast the best record in the NFL, including a 6-0 road mark, and one of the top defenses.
The Bears simply have little room for error the rest of the way as they try to stay in a crowded playoff race. Though they're just one game out of the NFC's seventh and final spot, they are one of eight teams in the conference with either four or five victories.
They're also dealing with injuries to key players on offense and defense, with linebacker Roquan Smith joining the list against Detroit. He exited that game after hurting his hamstring and did not practice Wednesday.
Though Nagy said he does not think Smith will wind up on injured reserve, his injury means the defense could be down another top player against the Cardinals. Star pass rusher Khalil Mack suffered a season-ending foot injury this year, and defensive tackle Akiem Hicks (ankle) has missed the past two games.
“I worry about what I can control, and at the end of the day that’s doing my one-eleventh and doing my job and as far as that, that’s hard enough on its own,” cornerback Jaylon Johnson said. “So I mean I’m not too focused on other factors going on around me, just trying to home in on what I can get better at and keep playing ball.”
As for possibly not having Smith available?
“Being able to fill that role, I feel like, isn’t going to be easy in terms of just his leadership, the energy that he brings to the defense,” Johnson said. “And even through his performance, through his ability to make plays that impact the game, I feel like it’s going to be hard to replace. But I mean at the end of the day, the standard is the standard, so whoever fills that spot is going to come in and they’ll have that same impact, hopefully.”
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