The Chicago Bears held a light practice Wednesday afternoon, a walk-through of sorts but with enough work that quarterback Justin Fields was able to test his injured left shoulder. The team’s medical staff cleared Fields to participate, but he still felt noticeable pain as he continued working through what he said was a separation of the shoulder with a partially torn ligament.
Fields indicated he felt discomfort throwing and handing the ball off during practice. “The pain is pretty high,” he said.
If the Bears had to face the New York Jets on Wednesday, Fields said he wouldn’t have played.
“But good thing we don’t play today,” he added. “We play in four days. So we’ll see how it feels in four days.”
That’s good news for the Bears. Unless it isn’t.
Suddenly the team finds itself with a big decision, weighing the risk-reward proposition of putting their franchise quarterback on the field with a significant injury to his non-throwing shoulder.
As the week moves forward, this will become an issue of strength and pain tolerance, the latter of which Fields rarely has issues with. He noted Wednesday that the most pain he has played through came during the national championship game in January 2021, when while with Ohio State he played with cracked ribs and a partially torn hip muscle.
“That’s the last game of the year,” Fields said. “I’ve got to damn near die to not play in that one.”
Fields was reminded, though, that his 3-8 Bears won’t be playing for a championship Sunday against the Jets at MetLife Stadium.
“Yeah, for sure,” he said. “Again, it’s just seeing how I feel, seeing if I can protect myself or not and just playing it by ear.”
To that end, coach Matt Eberflus emphasized the Bears would not be reckless with whatever final decision they make on Fields’ playing status. “He’s got to be full-go, ready to do everything,” Eberflus said.
At the same time, the Bears will have plenty to sort through. Fields is already pushing to play, and his coach wouldn’t mind having him out there against the Jets, particularly after Fields has accounted for 15 touchdowns over the last five games.
“If he’s ready to play, he’s going to play,” Eberflus said. “He feels that way; we feel that way. If he’s ready to go and feels good about it, he’s going to play the game. … We’re trying to win. We want to win. There are a lot of great things to getting the experience of playing a game, every single game we can. That’s an important part to this season.”
Added Fields: “Coach Flus pretty much said it was up to me. They want the best thing for me. So he said if I feel I can play, if I feel that I can go out there and protect myself, then I’ll be able to go. I’m just going to see how it feels each and every day and play it by ear.”
Bears general manager Ryan Poles, though, is certain to have significant influence in the team’s final call.
Eberflus understands Poles must remain cognizant of prioritizing the Bears’ long-term best interests over short-term competitive desires. Thus the internal discussions at Halas Hall in the coming days will be important as the coaching staff and front office work to get or remain on the same page.
Eberflus was asked what would happen if his wishes for Fields to play this weekend were in conflict with Poles’ bigger picture view.
“There’s a big argument then,” Eberflus said with a laugh “We have disagreements like that sometimes and we would just have to put our heads together and make a common-sense decision.”
Smart money says the team will err on the side of caution if Fields is significantly limited or deemed to be vulnerable in any fashion.
“We’ll see where it goes,” Eberflus said. “We’ll see. (Thursday) will be more of a faster-paced (practice). We’ll see when he’s moving full speed during that time and during our drill work. We’ll be able to tell.”
Fields injured his left shoulder on the first play of the Bears’ final drive Sunday in Atlanta, landing awkwardly when tackled near the sideline by Falcons cornerback Dee Alford at the end of a 1-yard run. Fields played the final two snaps after that injury but threw an interception that sealed the Bears’ 27-24 loss.
If Fields isn’t able to play Sunday, backup Trevor Siemian will start against the Jets. Ideally the Bears would love to get Siemian first-team reps running their offense in practice if that’s the direction they sense things are heading.
“That’s an important piece to it for sure,” Eberflus said. “Your backup always has to be ready. Trevor has been outstanding in the meetings. He has great functional intelligence to be able to operate the offense. And he’s familiar with the offense.”
Eberflus acknowledged Fields’ mental and physical toughness plus his competitive desire could complicate the team’s evaluations.
“Once the player says, ‘Yes, I’m good to go,’ the last hurdle is, because of who this guy is, is he really, truly ready to go?” Eberflus said. “Can he go full speed? Can he operate? That’s up to the player and the coaches’ eye.”
On Wednesday, Fields was forward in expressing the pain he was feeling while passing. “I’m feeling it pretty much every throw,” he said.
Now, as he pushes to regain strength and accelerate his recovery, he also is working to see how he can compensate for his new limitations in his left shoulder.
“I’m just going to work throughout the week to get that motion down, try to get that pain down a little bit and see what happens Friday night and Saturday,” Fields said. “We’ll see how it goes.”