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Rough Road for Justin Fields But a Winning One

The Bears aren't sure if Justin Fields will need to start against Cleveland because of Andy Dalton's injury but every one is sure the offense needs to pick it up from the quarterback through the receivers.

It was the kind of disjointed offensive effort a team could expect from losing the starting quarterback.

Now the Bears have to wait through a few days of checking out Andy Dalton's knee to see how severe the injury is he apparently suffered while scrambling to the sideline in Sunday's 20-17 win over the Cincinnati Bengals.

"We'll see. We'll know more here in the next 24, 48 hours as to where he's at and everything, but he's tough," Bears coach Matt Nagy said.

Nagy spoke after the game like someone who finally had seen his offense clicking the way he expected. If it did, it was only a fleeting glimpse and it came on the first drive of the game.

"Man, for him to still go out there—and I thought the first drive, man, it was so great to be able to go out and get that first drive right down the field and score the touchdown and then we were kind of moving the ball and then that happened," Nagy said.

Dalton's success on the first drive hardly came in smooth rhythmic style. The Bears had 32 yards courtesy of Eli Apple's pass interference penalty on a deep incompletion along the sidelines to Marquise Goodwin.

On the next possession, Dalton's short pass went for 36 yards thanks to a brilliant open-field move by running back David Montgomery but it was wiped out by offsetting penalties. And so went much of the first half before Dalton left, and even later in the game when Justin Fields came in after the knee injury.

"Offensively, four or five plays that man, if we could just have those," Nagy said. "That's the if, coulda, shoulda, woulda; that's where if you have a defense that's doing what they did today, we have to be able to get more."

It's a familiar refrain of the Matt Nagy era offense, whether it's Dalton throwing before an injury, Fields throwing after Dalton's injury, or Nick Foles, Mitchell Trubisky and Chase Daniel throwing.

The Bears had no more long touchdown drives after the game-opener that ended on Dalton's perfect throw to Allen Robinson slanting in from 11 yards out. They had to drive only 36 and 9 yards to get field goals after the defense got them the ball, and then Roquan Smith scored on his 53-yard interception return. The offense actually squandered the chance to score after Jaylon Johnson's interception gave them the ball at the Bengals 39.

No doubt the switch in quarterbacks in the second half altered what they planned on offense. Fields' inexperience didn't afford them an opportunity to run certain motions, plays and variations.

"Yeah, we had some things on the sheet that we like and whether it's type of play calls based off of formations, motions, shifts personnel, stuff like that. When you get out there in this situation and you're the backup quarterback and you don't have all those practice reps and you get thrown in the mix, the last thing you want to do to that guy is make him start thinking about how to call formation motion shift," Nagy said. "You want to be able to play fast.

"So we had to adjust a little bit because of the situation of coming in like he did. That's all part of it."

It explains some of the offensive woes. The Bears had only 206 net offensive yards. Robinson could come up with only one more reception for 13 yards after his TD catch from Dalton.

It wasn't all Fields' doing. Darnell Mooney had a deep one he could have had and Robinson had one go off his hands.

"Just got to forget about it and he just needs to know that I'm going to keep throwing the ball," Fields said. "He's one of the best receivers in the league and that goes for everybody. Every one of my tight ends, backs or receivers; if they drop a ball I'm still going to go to them just because I have that much confidence in him and how we play because I see it every day in practice how great those guys are going to be."

Fields knows how to explain some of the other troubles. Besides the key interception he threw in the fourth quarter, his two false start penalties for the way he was bobbing also combined to hurt drives.

"Yes, that's my fault, those are mistakes, rookie mistakes," Fields said. "The ref said that I was blinking a little bit, so I guess I can't flinch. Know that now. Hopefully it won't happen again."

He averted another disaster when Trey Hendrickson stripped the ball away on a sack that might have gone back for a Bengals touchdown, but they botched picking it up and Fields crawled forward through the crowd to secure the ball himself.

"That was just me trying to get the ball back," he said. "I mean, I know I've got the ball, I think got knocked out from behind me or something like that. Then I just saw it on the ground and I know I got tackled, and I was trying to get to the ball and that was definitely to go to be a touchdown if I didn't get it. That was just pure effort. I was trying to do my part and help my team win."

Considering the task ahead at Cleveland against a Browns team capable of being in a Super Bowl, the 27.7 passer rating Fields had against the Bengals will need to improve. That is, if he's even the starter.

About all the Bears seemed to know afterward was the knee injury isn't a torn ACL.

"I'm pretty sure that's been ruled out," Nagy said.

He's also the coach who said Teven Jenkins' health was trending upward and Tarik Cohen was improving every day, so it will be wait and see.

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