The most important question asked of Justin Fields on Thursday drew a one-word answer from the rookie quarterback.
Is he vaccinated?
“Yeah,” Fields said.
That gives him — finally — an edge over Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who led those outside Lambeau Field to believe he was vaccinated against COVID-19, too, even as his team knew otherwise. On Wednesday, Rodgers tested positive for the coronavirus.
Fields has the same advantage over another NFC North quarterback, the Vikings’ Kirk Cousins, who said during training camp he would do “whatever it takes” — short of actually getting the vaccine — to avoid being in close contact with an infected person.
Fields’ answer is notable for what it was and what it wasn’t.
What it was: a competitive advantage for the Bears. Fields, like Rodgers, has every right to decide whether he gets vaccinated. Other Bears players have chosen not to. But because Fields did, the Bears probably won’t be in a situation as dire as the Packers are in this week.
Vaccinated NFL players miss less time. Those who test positive can return in as little as five days with two negative tests. But unvaccinated players must sit for at least 10. Unvaccinated players also must sit out at least five days for being a close contact of an infected person; vaccinated players don’t have to at all.
By being unvaccinated and having a positive test, Rodgers has ensured he’ll miss Sunday’s game against the Chiefs and force Jordan Love, who has thrown seven career passes, to start. Missing the next game isn’t out of the question, either; Rodgers is eligible to return after a 10-day quarantine only if he can test negative. His earliest return — without having practiced for two full game weeks — would be one day before the Packers play the Seahawks on Nov. 14.
In giving his one-word answer Thursday, Fields didn’t say “immunized,” as Rodgers did in training camp when reporters asked whether he’d received the vaccine. Rodgers choosing that specific word — he
reportedly received an alternative therapy before the season that the NFL doesn’t consider a vaccine — made him the biggest story in the NFL this week. It was terribly on-brand — the smartest guy talking in technicalities — and could open the Packers up to league fines, given that Rodgers appeared to follow sideline and news conference protocols that are meant for vaccinated players.
As of Oct. 21, 94.1 percent of NFL players had received the vaccine, and all but two teams had at least 95 percent of their players vaccinated.
Coaches and staff members around the league are, with very rare exceptions, all vaccinated. The NFL considers so many vaccinated employees to be incomparable to any other facet of society.
Yet it hasn’t seemed that way around Halas Hall over the last month. The Bears are emerging from their own coronavirus breakout, one that caused starting running back Damien Williams, who is unvaccinated, and standout outside linebacker Robert Quinn to miss one game apiece. Vaccinated tight end Jimmy Graham — who has contributed all of one catch this season — missed the last two games before returning to practice this week. The Bears lost starting right tackle Elijah Wilkinson, who is unvaccinated, mere hours before the Buccaneers played “Whac-A-Mole” with Fields on Oct. 24.
The coronavirus also just kept Bears coach Matt Nagy from pacing the sideline against the 49ers on Sunday. He had to sit in a hotel room, alone, and watch the game on television, left to scribble notes helplessly.
None of those aforementioned players — or even Nagy — is as important as the Bears having their starting QB on Sundays. With one word, Fields confirmed an edge for the Bears, at least compared to their rivals.