During two games this season, including the one Sunday in Atlanta, I tweeted that the Bears were going to get Justin Fields killed. Typical sports-talk overstatement. You’ll forgive my hyperbole.
I can’t rule out maiming, disfigurement or long-term disability checks in Fields’ future.
Whatever offensive coordinator Luke Getsy thought he was doing in the closing moments of the Bears’ 27-24 loss to the Falcons, he thought wrong. If he thought Fields was healthy, he was wrong. If he thought Fields could fight through whatever was bothering certain body parts, he was wrong. If he thought calling run plays for a clearly injured quarterback was a good idea, he was terribly wrong.
By the time Getsy was done calling plays, Fields looked like he had the physical complaints of an 85-year-old man. He was holding his left, non-throwing shoulder and walking gingerly, thanks to hamstring issues. The shoulder was the result of a hit on one play. Any additional pain was the result of the next play, one that never should have been called. The Falcons had just taken a 27-24 lead on Younghoe Koo’s 53-yard field goal. The Bears got the ball back at their 25 with 1:47 left and three timeouts in their pocket.
On first down, Fields was pushed out of bounds after a one-yard run and landed on his shoulder. When he stood up, he was grimacing. Not good. He already had been dealing with hamstring cramps, which had slowed him in the second half. Why Getsy had called a run play in that situation is Question No. 1.
On second down, Fields took a big hit on a four-yard gain. It left him grabbing the same shoulder in pain. Question No. 2: Why on earth would Getsy call another run play after Fields’ noticeable discomfort on first down? This being the NFL, Getsy wasn’t available to reporters after the game. He won’t have to face the music from the media until Thursday, and by then, many of the ominous notes will have been toned down.
So it was left to Fields to explain things. And he did, right after he was done getting X-rays.
“I was hurting, but, again, it was the last drive of the game, so [I] tried to be there for my teammates and fight through the pain,’’ Fields said.
On third down, Fields overthrew David Montgomery. Falcons safety Jaylinn Hawkins picked off the pass, all but ending the game.
There’s no doubt the Bears reintroduced Chicago to excitement when they decided to make Fields’ running the showcase of their offense in mid-October. But the three-play sequence at the end of this game magnified the scary part of that approach. It also demonstrated one of Fields’ shortcomings.
Ever since the Bears decided to be a run-first team, the question that hasn’t gone away is whether it’s sustainable. And by “sustainable,’’ I mean, “Will Fields need a mobility scooter by the end of the season?’’ The problem was that Fields clearly was banged up. TV cameras showed him getting both hamstrings worked on in the second half. Going into the final drive, there was no doubt something was wrong with him. He wasn’t running nearly as well as he had earlier in the game. You know, before he started wincing.
Getsy’s play-calling showed that the Bears’ offense is dangerously, almost obsessively reliant on the quarterback’s running. You can’t do that in the NFL, even with Fields, who has been brilliant the last six games. You’re asking for trouble. It’s impossible to believe that Getsy didn’t know Fields was struggling physically. He had a sideline view of the abuse the kid was taking.
This would be a good time to point out that Fields is not a piece in a chess game. He’s the Bears’ future. If Getsy doesn’t know that, he shouldn’t be calling plays.
The other thing the final drive showed was Fields’ difficulty in getting the ball over pass rushers. He had three passes knocked down, including one that hit the back of an offensive lineman’s helmet. Maybe that’s why he felt the need to jump to try to get his final pass over defensive linemen and into Montgomery’s hands. Instead, the pass sailed into Hawkins’ hands.
When I pushed for more passes from Fields in a column last week, social-media fanboys immediately descended on my clearly out-of-touch carcass. The most exciting Bear since Walter Payton and you don’t want him to run? I like his running. I’d prefer that he survive the season. I’d prefer that his ability to run be used to enhance the passing game. That’s exactly what happened in the first quarter, when Fields overthrew an open Darnell Mooney on a bomb. The Falcons’ awareness/fear of the quarterback’s speed opened up that play.
If Getsy calls a few more pass plays in the last six games, Fields has a chance to progress as a passer. If he thinks Fields’ running is an end in itself, the kid isn’t going to last.
Fields has a long way to go. That probably will come as a surprise to the person who paid $90,000 for his rookie card at an auction last week.
There’s nothing wrong with Fields Fever. There’s a lot wrong with Getsy’s recklessness.
After the game, coach Matt Eberflus explained a coordinator’s main job.
“Put our players in the best places to succeed, and our play calls should reflect that,’’ he said.
On Sunday, Fields was put in a dangerous place.