Bears QB Justin Fields limited in practice, questionable Sunday vs. Jets

Fields has been hindered since separating his left (non-throwing) shoulder against the Falcons.

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Almost everything Bears coach Matt Eberflus said this week about quarterback Justin Fields’ injury made it sound as though Fields will play Sunday against the Jets.

But maybe that’s all just part of the smokescreen.

In the name of competitive advantage — Really? For a 3-8 team in Week 12? — Eberflus maintained the mystery Friday by listing Fields as questionable, the murkiest of designations, because of a separated non-throwing shoulder.

If he’s out, Trevor Siemian would make his first start of the season, and the Bears would promote Nathan Peterman from the practice squad to be the backup.

Eberflus has essentially ducked every question about Fields, inclu-ding whether the medical staff has cleared him for contact, but he has been fairly consistent on two points: Fields has progressively felt better this week, and Eberflus wants him to play if he’s able. It’ll be a Sunday morning decision.

Fields has taken limited reps, with Eberflus reporting “he’s been functioning in practice.” Fields said there’s pain when he throws and hands off. Plus, there’s no telling what hits he might take in the game.

“My preference is [for him] to play if he’s 100% ready,” said Eberflus, who added that the decision-making process wouldn’t be any different if the game had higher stakes.

Fields seemed optimistic about playing and anticipated getting a painkiller shot before the game. He said Eberflus told him it was “pretty much” his call whether he feels he can play.

“He’s able to do a lot of things. He’s been doing good in there,” Eberflus said of Fields in practice.

The injury threatens to interrupt what has been the best run of Fields’ young career, one that will be difficult to continue if he’s inhibited or has to sit. His 97.6 passer rating since Week 5 is 12th in the NFL, and his touchdown rate (6.8% of his passes) is second only to the Dolphins’ Tua Tagovailoa. The Bears have averaged 25.3 points per game during that span.

With 834 yards rushing this season, Fields also is sixth in the NFL, regardless of position.

But that’s why the Bears are concerned. Fields is running 11.1 times per game this season, and each carry brings the risk of him getting drilled. He was hurt on a run near the end of the Falcons game when cornerback Dee Alford knocked him out of bounds and caused him to land on his shoulder.

As the Bears deal with issues on their offensive line, Fields also has been pressured on 28.8% of his drop-backs (second-highest in the NFL) and has been sacked a league-high 40 times.

The Bears must accept that this is part of the deal when a team builds around a dual-threat quarterback. Although the rules are geared toward protecting QBs, Fields is still going to take hits like the one from Alford.

Every team should be prepared for that, really, regardless of what style a quarterback plays. The Bears haven’t had a quarterback start every game in a season since Jay Cutler in 2009. In each of the last three seasons, three quarterbacks took snaps for them.

Fields missed time last season when he suffered cracked ribs in Week 10 against the Ravens, leaving that game in the third quarter and missing the next two. He also injured his ankle in Week 14 and missed two more games before sitting out the season finale with COVID-19.

Eberflus quickly ruled out injured reserve for Fields, indicating the Bears don’t expect him to miss much time, if any. However, if they sit him Sunday and next week against the Packers, they’re on a bye week after that, meaning Fields would get nearly a month to heal before playing the Eagles on Dec. 18.

Again, with the Bears miles away from the playoff picture and prioritizing long-term goals, there’s little reason to be so secretive about the plan. But if Fields is going to play, he needs to be at full capacity. There isn’t much purpose in sending him out there — especially against a hard-hitting Jets defense that ranks fourth in the NFL in sacks and had six last week — if he can’t access his full repertoire.

If Fields has to play in a carefully curtailed offense to navigate the injury, he might as well get the rest.

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