With rookie quarterback Justin Fields still on the reserve/COVID-19 list, Bears coach Matt Nagy announced Friday that Andy Dalton will start Sunday's season finale in Minnesota, with Nick Foles serving as the backup.
The Bears were planning to start Fields against the Vikings. After missing two games with an ankle injury, the first-round pick had returned to practice Wednesday without limitations. But he was placed on the COVID list Thursday.
"You can't predict any of these COVID situations," Nagy said. "It's what we're all dealing with right now, everywhere. Finding out when we did with Justin, it's a part of this deal. Justin was super eager to get out [and play]. He had a great day of practice, and this is a part of how it goes. So, we've just got to be able to react to it, and that's why we feel good about having Andy and Nick here."
There's a slim chance that Fields could be removed from the COVID list before kickoff Sunday—if he's asymptomatic and receives multiple negative test results. But even if that's the case, it's unlikely the rookie would play against the Vikings after missing practice Thursday and Friday.
"We've discussed that," Nagy said. "I think the odds of that happening, I don't know where that stands. We would discuss where that's at and how that would go. But right now, the big thing is getting the practice reps. I think that's the biggest thing the last two days; not having them would probably prevent that from happening."
It appears that Fields' rookie season will end with him having played in 12 games with 10 starts and completing 58.9 percent of his passes for 1,870 yards with seven touchdowns, 10 interceptions and a 73.2 passer rating. He also rushed for 420 yards and two TDs on 72 carries, was sacked 36 times and lost four of 12 fumbles.
It seemed as if Fields was ready to ascend after passing for a career-high 291 yards Nov. 8 in a Monday Night Football game in Pittsburgh. He helped the Bears erase a 20-6 fourth-quarter deficit and take a 27-26 lead with a 16-yard touchdown pass to Darnell Mooney with just 1:46 remaining. But the Steelers rallied for a 29-27 victory.
In the Bears' next game against the Ravens, Fields sustained cracked ribs that forced him to miss the following two contests. He returned versus the Packers, but then sustained an ankle injury a week later against the Vikings that sidelined him again.
The injuries and COVID have prevented Fields from having more opportunities to grow.
"When you go back to that night in Pittsburgh," Nagy said, "I'll always remember that being a moment right then and there for a long time of like, 'I told you,' where he just kind of looked at me and just smiled like, 'Get ready to watch what's going to happen.' And then for that to happen, I do feel like that was growth up until that point and we're taking off. And then you end up having some injuries, and now recently here with COVID.
"The good thing for Justin is that he has developed. He's gotten better. He's improved. He knows that he can improve and is going to continue to keep improving. But that's just how it goes. It would have been interesting to keep it consistent, but that's not the way it went, and fortunately we have Andy and Nick there to protect us in this situation."
In other injury news Friday, the Bears ruled defensive tackle Akiem Hicks out of Sunday's season finale with an ankle injury that prevented him from practicing this week. He's been dealing with the injury since sustaining it against the Steelers.
After missing four games, Hicks returned with a vengeance Dec. 20 versus the Vikings, registering five tackles, 2.0 sacks, two tackles-for-loss and four quarterback hits. He sat out the following week versus the Packers while on the COVID-19 list and then came back to play in last Sunday's win over the Giants.
Hicks, who is in the final year of his contract, originally signed with the Bears in 2016 after spending his first four NFL seasons with the Saints (2012-15) and Patriots (2015). He has since started all 77 games he's played over six years, registering 247 tackles, 51 tackles-for-loss and 31.0 sacks.
"He did a lot of good things as far as affecting different offenses," Nagy said. "He creates a lot of double teams, and I thought he did a good job of doing that his whole career here."