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Wednesday, February 8, 2023
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Without Justin Fields playing, the Bears are a whole lot of nothing

The temptation is to say that the Bears’ loss Sunday lacked any redeeming value, but that would ignore the fact that a rebuilding team didn’t hurt its draft position next year with a meaningless victory and that an inactive Justin Fields didn’t get hurt tripping over a headset wire on the sideline.

The most entertaining part of the day came before kickoff, when the Bears dropped the weeklong subterfuge and announced that Fields wouldn’t play against the Jets because of an injured left shoulder. That meant Trevor Siemian would start at quarterback … until he strained an oblique muscle warming up before the game. That meant third-stringer Nathan Peterman, who hadn’t started since 2018, would lead the Bears against the Jets … hold it! … until it was announced that Siemian, with help from modern medicine, would give it a go.

That’s it, folks. Hope you enjoyed the show. Don’t forget to get your parking ticket validated.

The Bears lost 31-10 in East Rutherford, New Jersey, and, again, the urge is to call it a waste of aviation fuel, uniform detergent and a driving rain that soaked everyone and everything. And, you know, as I continue to write this column, I find myself giving in to that urge. Safety Eddie Jackson and wide receiver Darnell Mooney were injured during the game. Petitioning the league for a team-wide personal day wasn’t an option for the Bears?

Selfishly, I wanted Fields to play Sunday, as long as there was no serious danger to his separated, non-throwing shoulder. I wanted him to see him — what’s that obscure phrase? — throw the football. Because of the shoulder injury, there would have been no way the Bears would have asked him to run and risk further damage. Fields’ passing ability would have been on full display. We haven’t seen much of it in his two seasons with the Bears. We sure haven’t seen it since offensive coordinator Luke Getsy turned him into a track star in October. I wanted to see if Fields’ right arm could make his two legs proud.

He threw before the game under the eye of the medical staff, head coach Matt Eberflus and general manager Ryan Poles. They decided the shoulder wasn’t ready for a tough Jets defense. It’s hard to argue against prudence. The “wow’’ factor was nonexistent with Fields out, but so was the “ow’’ factor. Still … sigh.

For a little while, there was a bright flashing light: Siemian went 8-of-11 for 127 yards and a touchdown in the first half, and wasn’t sacked. He looked very Zen in the pocket as he surveyed the field. That very small sample size raised some very large questions. Have we been too hard on the offensive line’s blocking this year? Has Fields been too quick to give up the pocket and run? Have the Bears been hiding Fields’ weaknesses as a pocket passer by turning him into a runner? Has Fields ever looked comfortable in the pocket, even when he’s had blocking?

The mind was power wandering.

Soon, the rain wasn’t the only thing falling to earth. After scoring 10 points in the first half, the Bears didn’t score again. Siemian had only 52 passing yards in the second half, was sacked twice and intercepted once.

It’s impossible to say what Fields would have done in similar circumstances. He’s had some very nice throws during the season, but you won’t find anything definitive about his passing ability in that. For whatever reason — a lack of blocking, hesitancy on his part, the shift to the running game, a lack of accuracy — we don’t know yet if Justin Fields is a great thrower.

We’ll find out someday. That day wasn’t Sunday.

The Bears are 3-9 and have lost five straight games. Don’t tell them that’s a good thing. They don’t want to hear it. But a victory Sunday might have negatively affected their position in the 2023 draft, which is the most important thing about this season after Fields’ development as a quarterback.

Watching him embarrass opposing defenses with his running has been the best part of Bears games this season, but Sunday was a reminder, an elbow to the ribs, that we need to see more.

Well, we need to see him healthy. Then we need to see more.

Eberflus said he believes Fields’ shoulder is getting better, but if you expected the clandestine coach to announce that the kid would start against the Packers next week, you haven’t read many spy novels.

“I suspect we’ll see where it goes,’’ he said.

You can’t get more definitive than that.

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