What Justin Fields' return means for QB, future of Bears' rebuild originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Justin Fields has waited patiently for a month. The Bears quarterback has waited for his dislocated right thumb to heal, his grip strength to return, and the medical staff to give him the green light to play.
The third-year signal-caller finally got cleared this week and is expected to start Sunday when the Bears visit the Lions in Detroit.
"I’m really excited. I feel like the longer I was out, the more I was trying to go," Fields said Wednesday at Halas Hall. "I’m really excited to be back this week and be back on the field with the guys."
Fields has missed the Bears' last four games, but the 24-year-old has remained engaged in the weekly game-planning and was "integral" in preparing backup quarterback Tyson Bagent for the rookie's first extended NFL action.
On game day, Fields wore a headset to listen to offensive coordinator Luke Getsy's calls, played the game in his head, and observed everything from the sidelines. He believes that getting a different view will help him in his return to live action.
"Being on the sidelines, I feel like you look at the game with a different perspective," Fields said, "And I was just kind of seeing the game from a different view. So. Definitely learned a lot from just being on the sidelines and really just looking at the game from the sidelines. Body language. Different alignments and stuff like that."
Fields watched Bagent closely and said he believes there are things he can take from the rookie's four-game performance that would mesh well with his own skillset, although he didn't elaborate on what those things might be.
"So things that Tyson did well, I’m definitely going to try to emulate that, of course, in my game," Fields said. "But at the end of the day, we’re different quarterbacks. We don’t do the same things. So, but, of course, there’s bits and pieces that we do differently that he did well on the field, and of course, I’m going to try to add that to my game for sure."
Fields was coming off back-to-back promising performances when he dislocated his right thumb against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 6.
The Bears entered this season needed to get a complete evaluation of Fields' franchise-quarterback potential. Fields struggled in the first three games before finding something in Weeks 4 and 5. But with only seven games left in what looks to be a lost season, Fields doesn't have much time to solidify his place as quarterback of the future before the season ends.
But it's enough time to show the Bears that reason for optimism and hope remains.
“I think seven weeks I enough time to show consistency and being the high performer that we expect him to be," head coach Matt Eberflus said Wednesday. "I know he’s had some good performances along this year, certainly, the last few have been solid."
The Bears needed to see consistent growth from Fields as a passer in Year 3 to feel good about his long-term prospects of becoming their franchise quarterback. In five-plus games this season. Fields has thrown for 1,201 yards, 11 touchdowns, and six interceptions while completing 61.7 percent of his passes. He was among the league leaders in touchdown passes when he suffered the thumb injury in Week 6.
But Fields also threw for just 99 yards in a Week 3 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs and had just 58 yards passing midway through the third quarter against the Vikings before leaving with the injury.
The inconsistency has been a big problem. Fields continues to struggle against zone defense, holds onto the ball too long, and hasn't been taking the easy completions despite that being part of his offseason focus.
The Bears currently are slated to have the No. 1 and No. 5 picks in the 2024 NFL Draft. If the Carolina Panthers continue to sink and the Bears' draft position holds, it's likely they will draft either Caleb Williams or Drake Maye and start the process of moving on from Fields.
Fields has been dealt a bad hand early in his NFL career. No one can deny that. He hasn't had the stability or high-quality organizational infrastructure needed to thrive as a young quarterback in the NFL. While that has undoubtedly been to his detriment, Fields holds some responsibility for his inconsistent play as a passer.
What can he accomplish in seven games? Can he do enough to make the Bears pass on Williams or Maye in seven games, three of which will be against teams in the lower third of the league?
“Just go out there and win games. I’m not here to prove anything to anybody," Fields said. "I’m playing for my teammates, I’m playing for the coaches, and that’s it. Everything else will take care of itself. So I’m not necessarily trying to prove anything to anybody."
That may very well be true. But these next seven games are vital for the next step in Fields' NFL journey. Barring a blistering stretch of high-level passing consistency, the Bears won't finish the season with a clear picture of Fields' franchise quarterback potential and, therefore, will have to plow forward with only the select information they have on hand.
That's a dangerous place for a rebuilding team with uncertainty at the sport's most important position, but the faint flicker of hope in Fields' future remains alive.
He has seven games to keep it from being fully extinguished by the same cold wind that has wiped out the long list of Bears quarterbacks that came before him.