It’s not whether Bears quarterback Justin Fields can play Sunday — it’s whether he should

It’s an important question that will tell us more about the way general manager Ryan Poles and coach Matt Eberflus view the Bears’ rebuilding season than any move this side of the Roquan Smith trade.

SHARE It’s not whether Bears quarterback Justin Fields can play Sunday — it’s whether he should
Chicago Bears v Atlanta Falcons

Bears quarterback Justin Fields throws against the Falcons.

Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

Justin Fields tried a spin move and got speared in the back.

Almost two years ago, Fields scrambled on third-and-13 in Ohio State’s College Football Playoff semifinal against Clemson. Tigers linebacker James Skalski hit him helmet-first in the back and was ejected; Fields missed one play.

He went to the medical tent, where he was injected with a pain-killer, and finished one of the great performances in college football that season. Despite injuries to his ribs and hip, he threw for 385 yards and six touchdowns to propel the Buckeyes to the CFP championship game.

Playing through pain — and with the aid of a numbing shot — was worth it then. 

It’s not Sunday.

After a week of ducking the question, the Bears offered a clue that Fields won’t play against the Jets seven days after he separated his left shoulder and suffered partial ligament damage against the Falcons.

The Bears activated practice-squad quarterback Nathan Peterman before flying to New Jersey on Saturday, setting him up to be the backup behind starter Trevor Siemian if Fields, as expected, sits. The Bears haven’t carried three active quarterbacks on game day all season, and don’t figure to Sunday. 

Fields was limited in practice all week and is officially questionable to play. Were the Bears sure Fields would play, Peterman would have stayed on the practice squad. On Friday, Eberflus said Fields’ status would be a game-time call. The coach described a three-pronged approach to making his decision: The medical staff had to clear Fields to play, Fields had to feel good and the coaching staff had to believe he could perform well.

The circumstances argue that Fields shouldn’t play.

The Bears-Jets game isn’t the CFP semifinal. It has no playoff implications for the 3-8 Bears, who have as much a chance of making the NFL playoffs as Ohio State does.

If anything, the Bears would stand to benefit from continued losing. Were the season to end today, they would draft third overall, their highest draft pick since they finished with the third-worst record in 2016.

Were the Bears’ record flipped, would Eberflus have a different decision to make?

‘‘That’s a good question,’’ he said. ‘‘I don’t think so with this one. I don’t think it is. I think it’s the same decision.’’

The Bears face the Packers next Sunday in a game that matters more to those at the highest levels of the organization than any other. The week after that is the bye. Both dates are far more important for Fields than Sunday.

Then there are the Jets, whose defensive linemen are ‘‘unbelievable,’’ offensive coordinator Luke Getsy said.

‘‘You put four D-linemen in, and then they kind of rotate four other ones that come in that are just as good,’’ he said. ‘‘This front seven is the real deal. It’s why they’re having so much success this year.’’

Only two teams knock down the quarterback more frequently than the Jets, who do so at a 12.4% clip. They rank fourth in pressure percentage, which measures hurries, knockdowns and sacks per dropback.

‘‘If [Fields] plays, we will hit him,’’ Jets coach Robert Saleh said. ‘‘If he doesn’t play, we will do our best to hit the next guy.’’

Evaluating Fields required the Bears to weigh the health of their best asset against continuing their offensive burst. They’ve averaged 29.6 points in the last five weeks after averaging 15.5 in Weeks 1-6.

Fields starting would require a numbing injection administered before the game. Playing with a separated shoulder wouldn’t expose Fields to greater long-term injury, provided he has the strength in the numbed shoulder to be able to protect himself.

But for the Bears’ future, determining whether Fields could play isn’t nearly as important as deciding whether he should.

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