Much to gain over final five games for Bears QB Justin Fields

Fields is on schedule, no doubt, but he has not arrived. “He knows there’s a lot ahead of him in terms of improvement,” coach Matt Eberflus said.

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A photo of Bears quarterback Justin Fields celebrating a touchdown at Soldier Field.

Fields was on the biggest roll of his career before hurting his left shoulder against the Falcons.

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The excitement about Bears quarterback Justin Fields had escalated to an all-time high before everything unraveled for him at the end of the game against the Falcons with an interception and a separated non-throwing shoulder.

He was playing better than ever and looked miles ahead of where he was while languishing in former coach Matt Nagy’s offense as a rookie. He had established himself as the best running quarterback in the NFL, and his passing proficiency had progressed, too.

For some, that was enough to proclaim him the franchise quarterback with such certainty that they wanted him protectively shut down for the rest of the season when he got hurt. And while the overexuberance to declare Fields a superstar is understandable for a fan base that has been starving for good quarterback play, there’s still work to do.

Fields is on schedule, no doubt, but he has not arrived.

‘‘He knows there’s a lot ahead of him in terms of improvement,’’ coach Matt Eberflus said. ‘‘He wants to take that jump — that leap — here in these next few games.’’

That’s why, as long as it’s not considered reckless to his health, it’s important that Fields plays as much as he can. And a showdown against the Packers gives him a chance to topple Aaron Rodgers and deliver a signature moment for the season. That would be riveting theater for the audience and a major mile marker in his career.

That’s a big part of what Fields has brought the Bears this season: Not only has he inspired optimism about their future that has been missing for years, but he has made the games compelling television again.

The Packers probably will score 30 to 40 points Sunday. Can the Bears keep up? That hypothetical used to be terrifying. Now it’s thrilling. Thank Fields for that.

There’s talk of shutting Rodgers down, too, by the way, but that’s completely different. This is his 18th season; Fields has 21 career starts.

Yes, there are indications that he’s headed toward stardom.

Yes, he’s hurting.

Yes, the Bears are done even dreaming about the playoffs.

But there’s nearly a third of a season left, and a young quarterback still seeking to prove himself needs those games.

Forget about whether general manager Ryan Poles needs to be convinced of Fields. This is more for his own benefit than anything else. Fields is still at the stage where every snap he takes, every coverage he reads and every blitz he identifies helps build his mental database.

It’s reassuring, however, that it appears he is advancing in all areas.

‘‘You can see it in his fundamentals, you can see it in his confidence, you can see it in the way that he delivers the ball — the timing of it, the rhythm of it,’’ Eberflus said. ‘‘You can see that every day in practice. We’ve been seeing that for a long time [in practice], and you’re starting to see it in games.’’

While he’s an incredible runner, Fields would be the first to say he has to get better as a passer. Even in his seven-game run where he flourished and led the Bears to 25.3 points per game, his passing was efficient but hardly game-changing at 167.3 yards per game.

He aspires to be a quarterback who can win with his arm and his legs, and that’s what the Bears need. That’s what Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen do. Fields has the potential to get there, too, but the only way to do that is through games.

There will be games when running isn’t much of an option. Good defenses can minimize those opportunities and force Fields to win through the air. There already are situations like that in games, such as third-and-longs and two-minute drills. Obvious passing scenarios are the biggest challenge a quarterback faces, and Fields will have to conquer that.

There’s much for him to gain down the stretch. That’s a good reason for him to play.

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