The Chicago Bears are riding the high that comes along with a victory week, but as is the case with all things NFL, it’s a ‘not for long’ feeling that will soon give way to planning for the New York Giants in Week 17. The most important question facing the Bears as they prepare for Big Blue is whether rookie quarterback Justin Fields, who missed Week 16’s game against the Seattle Seahawks with an ankle injury, should suit up and play.
It’s a difficult question that’s without an easy answer. One argument for playing Fields is that every rep and every game is a valuable experience for the 2022 season. The obvious argument against playing him is that if he isn’t 100% healthy, the risk of exposing him to further injury greatly outweighs the reward of those reps.
“Justin wants to play,” head coach Matt Nagy told reporters Monday. “He’s a competitor. He wants to be there for his teammates. I think that’s what matters. And I think that’s what all of us understand. We have to be smart. We’re not going to put him at risk. And he knows that.”
Fields’ rookie season has been a mixed bag of quality reps and frustrating plays. He owns a 2-8 record as a starter, is completing just 58.9% of his passes, and has thrown seven touchdowns to 10 interceptions. It doesn’t take an analytics expert to know those numbers are less than ideal, but sometimes it’s more about what the eyes see than what the statistics say. And Fields’ good moments—his good throws and incredible athletic ability—have more than confirmed his status as the Bears’ most talented and most valuable player moving forward.
Bears general manager Ryan Pace certainly thinks Fields has those MVP qualities, confirming this week that he sees similarities between his quarterback and Seattle’s Russell Wilson.
"You know where I think there are some similarities is the instincts that they play with,” Pace said this week of the Fields-Wilson comp. “There's a knack and that savviness even when you're improvising and the play might break down. It's not necessarily running with the football, but it's while you're on the move, eyes downfield and an instinctive feel for who's coming open. There are so many big plays that happen in our league off those types of moments, and a lot of those are in the red zone for example. Russell Wilson has made a lot of big plays off that and I think Justin will make a lot of big plays off that."
It’s pretty obvious, then, that the Bears are happy with what they’ve seen from Fields this year, and with that in mind, does it make sense to continue exposing him to unnecessary punishment in a season that’s long been over?
Part of what makes Fields so special is his desire and ability to keep plays alive. But that ability has led to some brutal outcomes, and at some point, hits like the one he took from Minnesota Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks in Week 15 won’t end with him being in the huddle for the next play. Instead, they’ll result in a long-term injury.
The Bears’ final two games are against the Giants and Minnesota Vikings. Win or lose, neither contest will impact 2022’s outlook, and with Fields already hobbled by an ankle injury, it seems like sitting him for the rest of the year would be a sensible decision. Now, it’s up to Nagy to do the right thing.