Injury, interception undercut Bears QB Justin Fields’ otherwise promising game vs. Falcons

ATLANTA — There was a lot to like about how Bears quarterback Justin Fields played Sunday — until the very end.

But every play counts as the Bears assess whether Fields is their guy, and there are major concerns about the way everything fell apart in the final minutes of a 27-24 loss to the Falcons. Not only did Fields throw the game away on an interception, but he suffered an injury that could limit his progress going forward.

So which do you want first, the bad news or the bad news?

Since everything is big-picture with Fields, let’s start with him hurting his left, non-throwing shoulder. The only downside to how he has flourished this season has been the underlying worry that a bad hit could ruin it at any time, and that’s the same risk any team accepts when it builds around a dual-threat quarterback.

Fields got his chance at a long-coveted comeback with 1:47 left from his own 25-yard line, down three. But on a curious call by offensive coordinator Luke Getsy to begin the drive, Fields raced left on a designed run and got knocked out of bounds by cornerback Dee Alford and landed hard on his left shoulder.

Fields stayed in the game, which lasted just two more plays for him as he ran a draw on second down — another ill-conceived choice by Getsy — and threw a pick on third, but was clearly struggling and kept grabbing his shoulder. For someone who rarely acknowledges being hurt, that’s telling.

The tone from him and coach Matt Eberflus was that the injury wasn’t anything disastrous, but Fields was taken for an x-ray right after the game and there was uncertainty about how it would affect him leading up to the visit to the Jets next week.

If it’s a separated shoulder, and that’s problematic on two fronts: Even though it’s his non-throwing arm, he said it hinders his throwing motion, and it’s a huge issue when it comes to running.

He pushed that aside the best he could in the moment.

“I was hurting, but it was the last drive of the game,” said Fields, who also battled cramps throughout the second half. “I tried to be there for my teammates and fight through the pain.”

Nonetheless, he was “hurting a good bit” and said after the game the discomfort remained intense.

The figurative pain of how he lost was almost as bad, especially following late-game shortfalls against the Lions and Dolphins the last two weeks.

On third-and-five with 1:07 left, Fields had time in the pocket and threw for running back David Montgomery at the first-down marker, but sent it high. Fields twisted to his left and hopped as he threw, and the ball skipped off Montgomery’s fingers into safety Jaylinn Hawkins’ hands.

In one regard, that’s more troubling than the pick-six he threw against the Lions. That mistake could be written off as an aberration by a quarterback who typically plays prudently, but the interception he threw in Atlanta resulted from an accuracy issue that has been an ongoing concern.

Between the injury and interception, the ending undercut an otherwise promising day.

Fields didn’t break any records or deliver a viral highlight, but he doesn’t need to be remarkable every game. He’s establishing a clear expectation of what he’ll give the Bears on a regular basis, and that’s an essential aspect of being a franchise quarterback. He is becoming consistent and dependable — adjectives that haven’t fit a Bears quarterback in decades.

Before the interception, Fields had completed 14 of 20 passes for 153 yards and a touchdown for a 109.0 passer rating and rushed 18 times for 85 yards and a touchdown. His final throw dinged 25 points off his rating and put a similar dent in how his overall day looked.

Still, Fields’ best plays were throwing, which is encouraging because that’s where he most needs to improve.

His 16-yard touchdown pass to Darnell Mooney on the opening drive was precise to the millimeter — “beautiful,” Eberflus called it. Tight end Cole Kmet will get all the hype for his spectacular 24-yard one-handed catch in the second quarter — rightfully so, because he did an incredible job hanging on to it as he got drilled by Falcons cornerback A.J. Terrell — but he mentioned unprompted that Fields hit bullseye on the throw.

And his 32-yard throw up the right sideline to Montgomery early in the fourth was arguably his best of the season. Fields rolled right under pressure, pointed to redirect Montgomery from an out route to a deep ball, then threw across his body to fire the ball perfectly ahead of him, and Montgomery caught it in stride against tight coverage by linebacker Lorenzo Carter.

“That thing was on a dime,” Eberflus said. “That was excellent… He had a lot of good plays out there, and he just keeps growing and growing and getting better and better.”

It’s going to be choppy at times, and that interception at the end made everyone uneasy, but it’s undeniable that Fields is building. The question, now that he’s hurt, is whether he’ll be able to continue that trajectory.

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