LAKE FOREST – The Bears will continue to monitor quarterback Justin Fields’ rib injury this week, as the team prepares to face the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on “Sunday Night Football.”
Coach Matt Nagy wouldn’t commit to starting or sitting Fields. The rookie returned to practice last week in a limited capacity but didn’t play Sunday in a 33-22 loss to the Arizona Cardinals.
“This is more of a pain thing for him right now, medically,” Nagy said. “We’re never going to put him at risk, medically. Never. So you can mark that down. If he is able to go and he is able to play and be the starter, it’s going to be because, medically, he’s cleared. And then I think more than anything, it’s pain. You know? It’s going to be a pain tolerance deal.”
Fields injured his ribs sometime during a Nov. 21 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. He played the first half and the first series of the third quarter before trainers pulled him aside.
This isn’t Fields’ first rib injury. He dealt with a rib injury after taking a hard hit in the College Football Playoff semifinal win over Clemson last season with Ohio State. He played through the injury in the national championship game loss to Alabama a week and a half later, but clearly wasn’t at 100%.
At this point in the season, with the Bears sitting at 4-8, there’s little reason to throw the 22-year-old onto the field if he’s not healthy. If the Crimson Tide were next on the schedule with a championship on the line, he could probably play. But the Bears have little to play for over the next five games. Nagy said the Bears still are not considering a stint on injured reserve for Fields, which indicates the team thinks he will be back sooner rather than later.
Bears fans can rest assured that Fields will return to the field when he is healthy. The Bears aren’t going to shut him down and wait for next year. That’s simply not how NFL teams think, especially with a coach whose job is on the line and the No. 1 most important thing on his to-do list is to develop the rookie quarterback.
Nagy sees merit in returning Fields to action, when healthy.
“I really felt like his confidence was starting to get good out there,” Nagy said. “At practice. On the field. In himself. Then the other part of this, too, is us creating and knowing what his strengths are, helped us out as well. So we were kind of trying to find that balance. So if he is able to go this week and that’s the case, then we have to do a good job with that [game planning] and understand that.”
In a curious twist, Nagy wouldn’t commit to the same for his rookie second-round tackle, who has been medically cleared and made his NFL debut Sunday. Teven Jenkins saw two snaps on special teams, both coming with the field goal unit.
The rookie remains stuck behind veteran left tackle Jason Peters on offense. Nagy indicated the Bears aren’t going to embrace a youth movement yet because they’re not out of the playoff hunt yet.
Mathematically, he’s not wrong. But the eye test tells Bears fans everything they need to know. That’s why Soldier Field was half empty during the second half Sunday.
“If you are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs – that’s all down the road stuff,” Nagy said. “That’s not where we are at, simply put. We are just not there, that’s not our mindset. It’s hard to go to that point because that’s just not how we think. I understand the question. I understand the want, because he’s a high draft pick. It’s just like Justin, too, right? High draft pick and you want to see him play. But Teven knows, just play, keep doing your thing, keep getting better in practice.”