What’s next for Justin Fields is all that matters after Bears blown out

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — A few minutes after his Bears became the latest thing to be buried at the Meadowlands, head coach Matt Eberflus was asked whether quarterback Justin Fields’ left shoulder would be healthy enough to face the Packers on Sunday.

Implied in the question was this: without him, what’s the point?

Bears fans got their first look at the 2022 Bears without Fields on Sunday, and it wasn’t pretty: a 31-10 loss to a Jets team that had benched their own quarterback five days earlier. Receiver Darnell Mooney and safety Eddie Jackson left with serious injuries while an undermanned defense allowed the last 24 points of the game.

Quarterback Trevor Siemian, who went from backup to starter to backup to starter again during the 90 minutes before kickoff, coaxed the Bears to 10 points in their first two drives — and none on the remaining eight.

After that drudgery, the question was too tempting: could Fields return to face Aaron Rodgers and the Packers?

“That’s a good question,” Eberflus said. “We think that he’s getting better every single day.”

Eberflus dodged a similar question all last week but showed his cards Sunday. Fields — who separated his left shoulder and suffered partial ligament damage against the Falcons — was never cleared by team doctors to play in the game. It’s fair to wonder whether he will be this week; if not, the Bears’ bye after the Packers game would give Fields more time to recover.

Fields was listed as questionable for the Jets game after being limited in three-straight practices. But on Eberflus’ list of three prerequisites for Fields to play — the quarterback needed to feel good, the coaching staff had to believe he could thrive and doctors needed to clear him — he went 0-for-3.

“We decided it was in the best interest of Justin and also the Chicago Bears that he was inactive,” Eberflus said.

The second-year quarterback did about 15 minutes’ worth of light throwing before the team’s inactives deadline an hour-and-a-half before kickoff. Afterward, Eberflus said he met with general manager Ryan Poles and the medical staff.

“Justin didn’t feel, that way, he could protect himself and perform the way he wanted to perform,” Eberflus said. “It’s about mobility and strength in his left arm … It really comes down to one thing: strength. He didn’t have the strength to protect himself in the game properly and to perform the way he wanted to perform.”

That was the most likely outcome all week. Siemian said he didn’t know that Fields would sit out until Sunday morning, though he suspected there was a “good chance I’d play” during practices.

The weirdness, though, was just getting started.

Siemian said he strained his oblique while going through pregame warmups.

“Throwing, something wasn’t right,” he said. “It flared up on me. Got back in the locker room and figured something wasn’t right again.”

About 50 minutes before kickoff, the Bears announced Nathan Peterman — the practice-squad quarterback who was promoted Saturday — as their starter. Peterman had thrown only five regular-season passes since being benched by the Bills after a loss to the Bears in 2018.

Tight end Cole Kmet said the last ball he caught from Peterman was during May OTAs. The uncertainty before the game Sunday reminded him of the lead up to the Bears’ Dec. 26 game against the Seahawks last year. Nick Foles was given his first start of the season — and Ryan Willis was named the backup — because Fields hurt his ankle and Andy Dalton had hand and groin injuries.

“I’ve learned since being here to just kinda focus on my thing. …” Kmet said. “Whatever it was, it was. I was just ready for anything at that point.”

Center Sam Mustipher said he was “trying to figure out what the hell was going on” during pregame warmups.

“Bizarre week,” he said.

Siemian said he took medicine — and not an injection — in the locker room and started to feel better. He wound up starting and played every snap, even diving head-first for a first-down marker in the first half.

“I could play,” he said. “I could do everything I needed to do.”

Both Kmet and Mustipher praised Siemian’s performance, given the circumstances. He didn’t make many mistakes — but clearly lacked the dynamism of Fields. Siemian went 14 of 25 for 179 yards, one touchdown and one interception — and a passer rating of 75.2.

He peaked when the Bears took a 10-7 lead early in the second quarter. They averaged 3.6 yards per play the rest of the way.

“Honestly, I’m more embarrassed,” Siemian said. “You get an injury. I got guys in there that are playing — what are we in, Week 12, 13? [They’re] going through hell. And I’ve got a non-contact thing show up. So, yeah, not ideal.”

None of it was. And it might not be next week, either.

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