LAKE FOREST – If everything breaks right, the Bears will be playing postseason football in January for the third time in four seasons.
But Andy Dalton probably doesn’t have that luxury. In many ways, the playoffs start now for the quarterback who has been anointed the starter for the 2021 season for the Bears.
That’s because first round pick Justin Fields is waiting in the wings to be the long-term starter for the team at quarterback, and the timeline for his ascension to that role is unknown. Perhaps it will be in the fifth game, like it was for Mitchell Trubisky in 2017, or maybe it’s the middle of the third contest when head coach Matt Nagy pulled him for Nick Foles in 2020.
One thing is for sure: If Dalton doesn’t play well, Fields will see snaps sooner than later. It’s a pressure much different than he had many years in Cincinnati, where he was the franchise quarterback for nine seasons. In 2020, he came in knowing he was the backup to Dak Prescott, and only saw action after his season-ending ankle fracture.
Yet despite the change in circumstances, Dalton says he’s maintaining a similar mindset as he faces a major test in Week 1 as the Bears face the Rams. In 2020, they had the No. 1 scoring and yardage defense in the league and feature 2020 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald.
“You’ve got to treat it the same way,” said Dalton when asked if this start felt different than starts with the Bengals or Cowboys. “Every year is important. Every game is important and this is the start of this new year.”
But what about having Fields in a position to go in should he struggle?
“That’s the worst thing you can do is look over your shoulder. I think that’s understanding that is key,” said Dalton. “Tuning out the stuff you don’t need to focus on. Knowing where you need to put your time and effort and all that kinda stuff. I think that’s just where I’m at.
“You don’t worry about all the other stuff.”
Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor praised Dalton for his competitiveness and poise in pressure situations during his news conference this week. In many ways, the quarterback will be continuing to compete to keep his starting position this season, but that’s nothing new for Dalton.
“I would say I’m a very competitive person, not only from the game of football but kinda with everything that I do,” said Dalton. “I hold myself to a standard and expect to play at a high level and help this team in any way. So I think all that plays into the competitiveness.”
They’ll be plenty of it for Dalton in many ways as he gets ready to lead the Bears onto the field in 2021.