The Chicago Bears already had declared Justin Fields inactive because of a left shoulder injury when more quarterback uncertainty popped up Sunday morning.
Trevor Siemian, who prepared all week to start if Fields couldn’t play against the New York Jets, also was injured.
During initial warmups on the field at MetLife Stadium about 90 minutes before the game, Siemian could tell “something wasn’t right,” that an oblique injury had “flared up on me.” The Bears announced through their media relations staff about 50 minutes before kickoff that third-stringer Nathan Peterman would start instead.
Siemian went back to the locker room, took some medicine and tried to throw again during team warmups. Wait a minute, a Bears representative told reporters about 10 minutes before kickoff, Siemian might start after all.
The official word didn’t come until Siemian ran onto the field for the first offensive snap with 10 minutes, 12 seconds to play in the first quarter. The Fox Sports broadcasters apparently didn’t know until then. Even Bears tight end Cole Kmet claimed he didn’t know before that moment.
“It was like, ‘Here we go. Let’s go,’” Kmet said after the Jets’ 31-10 victory.
A week of questions about the Bears quarterback finally had its answer. After going back on the field for team warmups, Siemian said he decided he needed to try to play through the injury. He said it bothered him “a little bit” in the rain-soaked outing as he completed 14 of 25 passes for 179 yards with a touchdown and an interception in the Bears’ fifth straight loss.
“Honestly, I’m more embarrassed to get an injury,” Siemian said. “There are guys in there that are playing — what are we in, Week 12, 13? — going through hell. And then I have a non-contact thing show up. So, yeah, not ideal, but everybody is going through something at this point of the year.”
The quarterback questions could linger into this week as the Bears try to move on from the ugly loss against a tough Jets defense to Sunday’s game against the Green Bay Packers at Soldier Field.
Fields was limited in practice all week with what he said was a separated left shoulder with a partially torn ligament. He took throwing reps with Siemian and Peterman before the game. But after Fields met with general manager Ryan Poles, coach Matt Eberflus and medical staff, the Bears decided he wasn’t ready to play, a result that was expected late in the week.
Eberflus said Fields has felt better every day and “if he keeps progressing, then he’s got an opportunity” to start against the Packers. The Bears have a open date after that game, so they also might weigh the benefits of giving Fields two more weeks to heal.
“The medical staff didn’t clear him to play today,” Eberflus said. “Justin didn’t feel he could protect himself and perform the way he wanted to perform. It’s about mobility and strength in his left arm. We’ll take it day by day.”
Siemian made his first start for the Bears and his first overall in more than a year. The eighth-year NFL veteran from Northwestern started four straight losses for the New Orleans Saints in November 2021.
He said he knew there was a good chance he would play Sunday but didn’t get official word that Fields wouldn’t start until that morning.
“You’re ready to play every week. You’re a play away,” he said. “Maybe toward the end of the week, I was like, ‘Oh, shoot, I’ve really got to be ready to go.’ But it was not much different than any other week.”
His outing started well enough, with the Bears scoring on their first two drives.
Cairo Santos made a 22-yard field goal on their opening drive. Siemian hit Chase Claypool with passes of 20 and 31 yards on their second drive, then connected with Byron Pringle for a 4-yard touchdown pass and a 10-7 lead. Pringle caught the pass over Jets cornerback D.J. Reed.
“He was just running in the back of the end zone, made an awesome play,” Siemian said. “Dude is tough as nails. He’s athletic, big catch radius. Made a great play on that.”
But the Bears offense stalled, going three-and-out on the next three possessions and gaining one first down on the next two possessions after that as the Jets shot to a 31-10 lead. Siemian and a running game fueled by David Montgomery and Darrynton Evans helped the Bears get into Jets territory twice in the fourth quarter despite the Bears playing without top wide receiver Darnell Mooney.
On the first drive, Siemian threw incomplete to Dante Pettis on third-and-5 from the 27-yard line on third down and nearly threw an interception on a pass to Claypool on fourth-and-5. The Bears’ last drive ended with C.J. Mosley’s interception at the 3.
“They were more physical than us in the second half,” Kmet said. “I don’t think we executed well in the second half. We had a lot of mental errors, guys just not doing things correctly.
“There at the end, that pick, I put that on myself. I can’t be drifting upfield like that. Little things like that, we’ve just got to get corrected. Despite the elements and what’s going on, we’ve got to be able to execute.”
Mosley and Jets coach Robert Saleh said they prepared all week for Fields to play. Saleh said once Fields was ruled out, nothing would have changed from their perspective between Siemian or Peterman since they wouldn’t have to deal with the threat of Fields running.
“We were definitely expecting Fields to play, just knowing him being a franchise quarterback, being a young quarterback, wanting to be out there with his team,” Mosley said. “It didn’t happen. We heard about the (Siemian) injury thing outside in warmups, so at that point, we were just ready to execute our game plan. We prepared for Fields, but we were ready for whoever stepped on the field.”
It’s Eberflus’ general policy to keep injury information quiet as not to give a competitive advantage to the opposing team. So it remains to be seen whether the Bears quarterback mystery will have a sequel this week.