LAKE FOREST – Justin Fields officially is back.
Bears head coach Matt Eberflus confirmed that Fields will start Sunday’s game against the Lions at Ford Field in Detroit. Fields has not played in a game since dislocating his right thumb Oct. 15 against the Minnesota Vikings.
In his place, backup quarterback Tyson Bagent started the past four games. The Bears went 2-2 over that stretch.
Fields returned to practice Nov. 3 but was not cleared by the team’s medical staff to return to game action in time for a Nov. 9 win over the Carolina Panthers. Fields’ thumb never needed surgery, but it needed time to gain back the strength necessary to grip a football. With it being his throwing hand, that was an essential part of the job.
Before the injury, Fields was coming off two of the best passing games of his NFL career. In games against Denver and Washington, Fields threw for a combined 617 yards with eight touchdowns and one interception.
If Fields remains healthy through the end of the season, he will have seven more chances to start. Eberflus said the Bears are looking for consistency out of the quarterback position.
“Seven weeks is enough time to show consistency and being the high performer that we expect him to be,” Eberflus said. “I know he’s had some good performances along this year, certainly the last few have been solid. We expect consistency out of all our positions.”
Now in his third professional season, Fields has shown flashes of potential throughout his career. But the consistency aspect has not always been there. In Week 6, when he injured his thumb after those two great performances, Fields began that game against the Vikings 6-for-10 passing for 58 yards with one interception in two quarters of action.
For Fields’ future, these seven games will be critical. The Bears have two first-round draft picks in the spring, including the Panthers’ pick, which could wind up being No. 1 overall. If general manager Ryan Poles wants to take a swing at drafting a quarterback, he may never have a better chance.
If Fields wants to keep the starting job moving forward – he’s under contract for 2024, and the team has an option for 2025 – he will have to play his best football during these final seven games.
The quarterback isn’t looking at it that way, though. And really, players can’t waste their mental energy thinking about those big-picture things. He’s just trying to win a game Sunday.
“It just starts with Sunday and just taking this day by day,” Fields said. “So, yeah, that’s my focus right now. I am just focusing on Sunday and getting prepared for that, going out, playing hard and playing to the best of my ability.”
It just starts with Sunday and just taking this day by day. So, yeah, that’s my focus right now. I am just focusing on Sunday and getting prepared for that, going out, playing hard and playing to the best of my ability.”— Justin Fields, Bears quarterback
He’ll have the chance to prove what he can do against some good defenses, too. The Bears take on the 7-2 Lions this week, the first of two matchups with Detroit, and they also face a resilient Vikings team and a dominant Browns defense in the coming weeks.
Fields said he taped up his thumb during practice Wednesday. At times during his recovery, he wore a glove on his throwing hand. He said Wednesday he doesn’t plan to wear a glove on game day. He might tape up his thumb, but that’s still to be determined.
The injury was bound to lead to some quarterback controversy, especially with Bagent playing well in his first start. There was, however, no controversy inside the walls of Halas Hall. Fields knew there might be a subsection of the fans that wanted Bagent to keep playing.
“Everybody wants to cause a stir, cause media attention, boom, boom, boom, comments, stories,” Fields said. “So that’s just what comes with it.”
With nine days between the Carolina game and the matchup with Detroit, Bagent said he had a pretty good sense that Fields would be returning to action this week.
“He threw a couple times in practice heading into Carolina,” Bagent said. “So I had an idea that, with the break, he would be feeling pretty good. And, you know, that’s our guy. So [I’m] super excited to have him back, and once again stepping back into my role will just be a little bit easier mentally for me.”