Schrock: Playing Fields vs. Jets would be insane act of negligence


LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Justin Fields showed a lot Wednesday at Halas Hall. He was open and honest about the left shoulder separation he suffered in the final minutes of the Bears' Week 11 loss to the Atlanta Falcons. He didn't deflect or dodge when asked how it feels and impacts his ability to play quarterback.

"The pain is pretty high today just with throwing and stuff like that, finishing throws, just the pain with that," Fields said Wednesday.

"It’s just different motions of me handing off the ball, throwing," Fields later said about when he feels the pain. "When I’m finishing my throw, I’m feeling it pretty much every throw."

NFL teams almost always default to dancing around the severity of injuries under the guise of "competitive advantage." Bears head coach Matt Eberflus did that jig Wednesday before Fields spoke.

The second-year signal-caller was uninterested in playing mind games with the New York Jets. The quarterback being open and direct when he could have easily dealt in ambiguities told us a lot about Fields.

It seems like Fields is going to try to show even more by trying to play Sunday. He's tough as nails, as evidenced by the bludgeoning he took early in the season before the Bears started getting him out of the pocket more often. He's the ultimate competitor, as evidenced by playing with cracked ribs and a partially torn hip muscle during the College Football Playoff National Championship Game at Ohio State.

"When you get a big game like that, that’s the last game of the year, I’ve got to damn near die to not play in that one," Fields said Wednesday.

Sunday's Week 12 matchup between the 3-8 Bears and 6-4 Jets is galaxies away from any title game. There will be no rings on the line or playoff positioning. Game reps are valuable for Fields at this early stage, but he's already proven he's the franchise quarterback Eberflus and general manager Ryan Poles should craft their rebuild around.

Fields will want to play Sunday in New York. He's wired that way. It's a trait you want in a franchise quarterback and one that should be applauded. It's also not one that needs to be on display at MetLife Stadium.

Given what Fields divulged Wednesday, it would be a massive mistake for the Bears to let him trot on the field to face the defense that leads the NFL in pressure rate, especially behind one of the league's worst offensive lines.

Everything about Fields' injury and the state of the 2022 Bears says Fields should be on the sidelines in sweatpants Sunday in East Rutherford, New Jersey. And yet, everything we heard from Fields and Eberflus on Wednesday suggests the Bears very well might play him if the quarterback, medical staff, and coaching staff all agree he is good to go.

"Coach Flus pretty much said it was up to me, they want the best thing for me," Fields said. "So he said if I feel that I can play, if I feel that I can go out there and protect myself and stuff like that, then I’ll be able to go. I’m just going to see how it feels each and every day and play it by ear."

Fields said he would "probably not" be able to play if the game were Wednesday. Nothing about a separated shoulder with partially torn ligaments suggests it will be much better by Sunday. Yes, Fields can get a shot to numb the area, wear either a pad or a harness, and put it all on the line to try to get the Bears their fourth win Sunday.

To what end?

Look up short-sighted in the dictionary, and you'll see a photo of Fields with a bad shoulder running for his life against Quinnen Williams.

"I would just say that if he’s ready to play, he’s going to play," Eberflus said Wednesday when asked why the Bears feel it's important Fields play Sunday if he can. "He feels that way, we feel that way. If he’s ready to go, feels good about it, he’s going to play the game. Really, the reason is because we’re trying to win. We want to win the game. There’s a lot of great things to getting the experience of playing a game, every single game we can. That’s an important part to this season.”

Fields won't play Sunday if it means risking missing more games later on in the season. He also said there's no way to tell if the injury can get worse by playing against the Jets.

"It just depends," Fields said. "I don’t know what hits I’m going to take on Sunday. So if my shoulder can with[stand] those hits and stuff like that. You really can’t predict if I can get worse or not just based on what’s going to happen. You don’t [know]."

That all sounds like he should already be ruled out. Maybe he has been and the Bears just aren't saying.

Eberflus has said it will be a collaborative effort to determine if Fields plays Sunday. That only happens if the medical staff gives the all-clear first. If that happens, Fields, Eberflus, and likely general manager Ryan Poles all will give input.

It's great to let your players' voices be heard, but you have to protect them from themselves at some point.

There's little doubt Fields will want to play and give it a go. He's the leader of this team in the present and for the foreseeable future. But if he's feeling a "pretty high" amount of pain when throwing and handing off, there's zero reason to put him in harm's way against the Jets.

It's ridiculous even to entertain the thought.

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Eberflus has been as disciplined as they come during his first season as head coach. But we're about to find out just how reckless he'll be to try to snap a losing streak in Year 0 of a complete rebuild.

Give Justin Fields all the credit for being authentic Wednesday. There were no games and no evasion tactics. Just honesty. He's in a lot of pain but wants to play. That's who Justin Fields is. That toughness, leadership, and grit will serve the Bears well when the games start to matter.

This game doesn't.

The decision to play Fields would land somewhere between an egregious mistake and a congressional-hearing-level travesty.

"They want the best thing for me," Fields said.

If that's true, the Bears will have already made the decision to sit Fields. If Fields jogs onto the field Sunday against a fierce pass rush, one of two things will be true: he healed faster than any human in history, or the Bears' regime values chasing win No. 4 more than the health of the face of their franchise.

To play Fields on Sunday would be a negligent decision bordering on gross malpractice. One there's no reason for the Bears to make.

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