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Report: Bears’ Dalton has bone bruise

With Dalton likely sidelined indefinitely, the Justin Fields Era is all but given the official green light.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Chicago Bears Jon Durr-USA TODAY Sports

Andy Dalton may have avoided ligament tears, but the Bears’ veteran quarterback is not out of the woods when it comes to his health. An MRI has confirmed that Dalton has a bone bruise in his left knee, reports NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. Dalton left Sunday’s 20-17 victory over the Bengals early out of precaution from the injury.

While the Bears have not yet offered firm confirmation of his status, on Monday afternoon, a Chicago spokesman for head coach Matt Nagy maintained that Dalton is the starter when healthy. But seeing as how Dalton is not healthy and will, in all likelihood, miss at least a few weeks in recovery, the apparent elephant Buckeye in the room is now in play:

Justin Fields making his first career start against the Cleveland Browns in Week 3 is academic.

If the Bears turn to Fields, it is unlikely Dalton sees the field for them again in a non-relief capacity. Fields is the player Chicago traded up to draft at No. 11 overall in the 2021 NFL Draft and the hopeful future of the franchise. Dalton is the stopgap veteran signed to a one-year deal with minimal commitment beyond this season. Letting the young player in Fields obtain a consistent rhythm as a starter, only to uproot that in a few weeks and potentially stunt his development would make little sense.

In his first extended action against Cincinnati on Sunday, Fields was up and down. In other words, he was a rookie. On 42 offensive snaps (or 65 percent of the entire game), Fields went 6-of-13 for 60 yards while tacking in a late interception through the air. He added 31 yards on 10 carries on the ground. A whole week of practice under his belt where he’s allowed to develop timing with the Bears’ receivers and be the focal point of the game-plan should help Fields take a step forward. He’ll need every rep to overcome a loaded Browns squad on the road as he returns to play in the state of Ohio for the first time since his dazzling collegiate career at Ohio State.

The Bears return to practice Tuesday, while the NFL’s first mandatory injury report for the week is due on Wednesday. By then, if expectations of Dalton’s status hold, the starting reins should be in Fields’ hands.