Bears QB Justin Fields might play through shoulder injury vs. Jets, but why?
Fields will almost certainly need a painkiller shot before the game and have to wear a harness or brace — and still play through significant pain. That seems unnecessary at this point in the season when there would be little lost by simply giving him time.
The Bears couldn’t possibly play injured quarterback Justin Fields, presumably the most influential piece of their future, in an inconsequential game against the Jets.
Fields and coach Matt Eberflus left that option open, though Fields said that based on how he felt doing some light throwing and handing off in their walk-through he was not in condition to play as of Wednesday because of his left (non-throwing) shoulder injury.
“We’ll see how it feels in four days,” he said, sounding optimistic overall.
Fields said he has a separated shoulder with partially torn ligaments, which is painful and inhibitive, but Eberflus flatly ruled out putting him on injured reserve. So the upside for the Bears is that Fields won’t be out long, but it’s unknown how soon he’ll be on the field.
Beyond the pain Fields endures on throws and handoffs is the glaring concern over him taking hits, especially against a Jets defense that ranks fourth in sacks. The injury happened on a play in which Falcons cornerback Dee Alford knocked Fields out of bounds and he landed hard on his shoulder.
Eberflus said Fields has “got to be full go, ready to do everything,” for the Bears to feel comfortable playing him Sunday, meaning they wouldn’t send him out there with a cautiously designed game.
Trevor Siemian, who started four games for the Saints last season and 29 over his eight-year career, is in line to start if Fields is out. The Bears also have had Nathan Peterman on the practice squad all season.
“Of course I’m not gonna [risk] that I might not be able to play later . . . and have to sit out two or three more weeks after that,” he said. “Just listening to my body and making sure I’m not forcing anything.”
If the Bears held Fields out this week and next week against the Packers, he could return for the Dec. 18 game against the Eagles after getting almost a month to recover.
When pressed on why a 3-8 team wouldn’t automatically play it safe rather than hurry Fields back into action, Eberflus pointed to him being key to the offense and needing as much experience as possible.
“If he’s ready to play, he’s going to play,” he said. “He feels that way [and] we feel that way. If he’s ready to go, feels good about it, he’s going to play.
“Really, the reason is because we’re trying to win. We want to win the game. There’s a lot of great things [about Fields] getting the experience of playing a game — every single game we can. That’s an important part to this season.”
While Fields is still trying to establish himself as the franchise quarterback and needs as many games as he can get, Eberflus’ insistence that the Bears need to play him because winning this game matters isn’t believable. The Bears aren’t in an all-out tank mode, but they unloaded defensive stars Roquan Smith and Robert Quinn in the last month.
The injury could interrupt the best stretch of Fields’ career. Over his last seven games, he has completed 63.4% of his passes, averaged 167.3 yards per game and thrown for 11 touchdowns against four interceptions for a 97.6 passer rating. He also averaged 98.1 yards rushing and scored six touchdowns.
Fields is widely respected for his toughness and famously played through cracked ribs and a partially torn muscle in his hip for Ohio State in the national championship in 2021 — “I’ve got to damn near die to not play in that one,” he joked — but the stakes are slightly lower against the Jets in Week 12 of a rebuilding season.
Eberflus labeled Fields “day-to-day” and said he was cleared to practice. The Bears plan to have a shortened practice Thursday, and Eberflus said seeing Fields work at full speed would be key to deciding whether he can play.
That will be a collective decision between Fields, Eberflus, general manager Ryan Poles and the medical staff, but Fields believed he’d have final say.
“[Eberflus] pretty much said it was up to me [and] they want the best thing for me,” Fields said. “He said if I feel that I can play, if I feel that I can go out there and protect myself and stuff like that, then I’ll be able to go.”
If he plays, Fields almost certainly would need a pain-killing shot before the game, and he said it’s difficult to predict how much that will help. Furthermore, he said he’ll wear an extra pad on that shoulder and potentially a harness or brace.
All of that seems like excessive duress to put Fields through at this point in the season when there would be little lost by simply giving him time.