What’s next for Justin Fields is all that matters after Bears fall to Jets
Might Fields face Aaron Rodgers and the Packers? “That’s a good question,” Bears coach Matt Eberflus said.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — A few minutes after the Bears became the latest thing to be buried at the Meadowlands, coach Matt Eberflus was asked whether quarterback Justin Fields’ left shoulder would be healthy enough for him to face the Packers next Sunday.
Implied in the question was this: Without him, what’s the point?
Bears fans got their first look at the 2022 team without Fields on Sunday, and it wasn’t pretty: a 31-10 loss to a Jets team that had benched its quarterback five days earlier. Receiver Darnell Mooney and safety Eddie Jackson left with serious injuries, and an undermanned defense allowed the last 24 points of the game.
Quarterback Trevor Siemian, who went from backup to starter to backup to starter during the 90 minutes before kickoff, coaxed the Bears to 10 points in their first two drives — and to none on their last eight.
After that drudgery, the question was too tempting: Might Fields return to face Aaron Rodgers and the Packers?
‘‘That’s a good question,’’ Eberflus said. ‘‘We think he’s getting better every single day.’’
Eberflus dodged a similar question all last week but showed his cards Sunday. Fields, who suffered a separated left shoulder and partial ligament damage against the Falcons, never was cleared by team doctors to play in the game. It’s fair to wonder whether he will be this week; if not, the Bears’ bye after the game against the Packers would give Fields more time to recover.
Fields was listed as questionable for the game against the Jets after being limited in three consecutive practices. But on Eberflus’ list of three prerequisites for Fields to play — he needed to feel good, the coaching staff had to believe he could thrive and doctors needed to clear him — he went 0-for-3.
‘‘We decided it was in the best interest of Justin and also the Chicago Bears that he was inactive,’’ Eberflus said.
Fields did about 15 minutes’ worth of light throwing before the inactives deadline 90 minutes before kickoff. Afterward, Eberflus said he met with general manager Ryan Poles and the medical staff.
‘‘Justin didn’t feel . . . he could protect himself and perform the way he wanted to perform,’’ Eberflus said. ‘‘It’s about mobility and strength in his left arm. It really comes down to one thing: strength. He didn’t have the strength to protect himself in the game properly and to perform the way he wanted to perform.’’
That was the most likely outcome all week. Siemian said he didn’t know Fields would sit out until Sunday morning, though he suspected during practices there was a ‘‘good chance I’d play.’’
The weirdness, however, was just getting started.
Siemian said he strained his oblique while going through pregame warmups.
‘‘Throwing, something wasn’t right,’’ he said. ‘‘It flared up on me. Got back in the locker room and figured something wasn’t right again.’’
About 50 minutes before kickoff, the Bears announced Nathan Peterman — the practice-squad quarterback who was promoted Saturday — as their starter. Peterman had thrown only five regular-season passes since being benched by the Bills after a loss to the Bears in 2018.
Tight end Cole Kmet said the last ball he caught from Peterman was during organized team activities in May. The uncertainty before the game reminded him of the lead-up to the Bears’ game late last season against the Seahawks. Nick Foles was given his first start of the season because Fields hurt his ankle and Andy Dalton had hand and groin injuries.
‘‘I’ve learned since being here to just kind of focus on my thing,’’ Kmet said. ‘‘Whatever it was, it was. I was just ready for anything at that point.’’
Center Sam Mustipher said he was ‘‘trying to figure out what the hell was going on’’ during pregame warmups.
‘‘Bizarre week,’’ he said.
Siemian said he took medicine, not an injection, in the locker room and started to feel better. He wound up starting and played every snap, even diving headfirst for the first-down marker in the first half.
‘‘I could play,’’ he said. ‘‘I could do everything I needed to do.’’
Kmet and Mustipher praised Siemian’s performance, given the circumstances. He didn’t make many mistakes but clearly lacked Fields’ explosiveness. Siemian went 14-for-25 for 179 yards with one touchdown and one interception for a passer rating of 75.2.
He peaked when the Bears took a 10-7 lead early in the second quarter. They averaged 3.6 yards per play the rest of the way.
‘‘Honestly, I’m more embarrassed,’’ Siemian said. ‘‘You get an injury. I’ve got guys in there that are playing — what are we in, Week 12, 13? [They’re] going through hell. And I’ve got a non-contact thing show up. So, yeah, not ideal.’’
None of it was. And it might not be next week, either.