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QB Justin Fields brings drama — and hope — back to Bears-Packers rivalry

Everything is stacked against Fields and the Bears as they face their archrival. “I like it that way,” the rookie said.

Fields will make his ninth career start Sunday at Lambeau Field.
AP Photos

The stage is set.

Now the question is whether Justin Fields can deliver the epic moment the Bears have been desperate for since the day they drafted him.

He’s back from cracked ribs, and suddenly these remaining Bears games are back from irrelevancy. No more filler from Andy Dalton. The future is underway once again.

And, as has invariably been the case for Bears quarterbacks the last three decades, everything is stacked against Fields as he stares down the Packers on Sunday.

Although medically cleared for contact, he expects to be in constant pain.

He’s going to Lambeau Field for the first time, trying to find his footing under the scrutiny of a national audience.

And his team is indisputably outmanned and has rightfully been counted out.

“I like it that way,” Fields said Wednesday of the prevalent expectation that this will be a disaster. “I like being the underdog. I like when people doubt me. That just gives me a little extra motivation.

“So I love it.”

And right there, amid another dreary season that’s trudging toward the miserable conclusion of a likely housecleaning at Halas Hall, there’s hope.

That’s what Fields brought from the start: hope. Hope can be wild and irrational and ignore the Packers being a nearly two-touchdown favorite, but it’s all the Bears have right now.

Hope that he can be a jumper cable for the offense.

Hope that he can be the best quarterback in their century-plus of existence.

Hope that, for the love of Ditka, he can finally make this a legitimate rivalry again instead of a biannual humiliation.

“We have not been good enough against this team in the 3½ years that I’ve been here,” coach Matt Nagy said. “And so we’ve got to do everything we can to change that.”

Oh, man, you’re still here?

Nagy hasn’t changed anything, and Rodgers subtly pointed it out in October when he mused that, “the main focus for so many of these coaches’ [introductory] press conferences in Chicago is beating the Packers.”

The coaches keep arriving, and Rodgers keeps dismissing them. Perhaps he does own the Bears if he’s the one doing the firing.

Nagy’s only win in seven tries against the Packers came in 2018 when he had one of the most tenacious defenses in recent NFL history and Rodgers played on a bum knee.

Fields likes to downplay the idea of it being a battle between quarterbacks, but that’s how the Bears viewed it when they traded up to take him No. 11 overall. They need him to punch back against Rodgers in a way that Mitch Trubisky and Jay Cutler couldn’t.

“Just know: It’ll be back on our side very soon,” Fields said on The Score last month. “Sooner than later, for sure.”

He talks that way because he’s been able to back it up on the field his entire life. While he embraces the underdog vibe, he’s admittedly unfamiliar with it. He’s used to conquering. He learned losing only once he got to the Bears and has struggled to acclimate to it.

“With our record and stuff like that, I just think a lot of times, teams maybe don’t respect us or don’t give us credit,” he said. “I mean, you can’t blame them. We messed up sometimes in the games — we’ve pretty much messed up in a lot of games. So that’s fine.”

Fields’ debut in the rivalry marked modest progress for the Bears. He completed 16 of 27 passes for 174 yards with a touchdown and a fluky interception on what he thought was a free play, and he ran six times for 43 yards. He got the Bears within a field goal early in the fourth quarter before falling 24-14.

It was nothing remarkable, but it was a promising performance by someone making his fourth career start. Now it’s time to deliver on the promise — under highly disadvantageous circumstances.

Fields practiced in full Wednesday for the first time since the injury, which kept him from throwing for about a week. He’ll wear protective gear Sunday but says he usually does anyway. This wasn’t nearly as painful as the rib injury he suffered in the College Football Playoffs in January, so that’s a positive, but there’s no doubt it’ll be a factor.

“The pain’s not unbearable,” Fields said. “You have three cracked ribs. Of course there’s gonna be pain. As long as it’s just not crazy pain where I can’t bear it, I’m gonna play and practice.”

Trying to keep up with Rodgers would be difficult enough at full strength.

But Fields’ injury only makes this more dramatic. And after watching the Bears plod through inconsequential games against the Lions and Cardinals the last two weeks, it’s good to have compelling drama again.