CHICAGO – For the Bears, nothing else matters right now except the health of their rookie quarterback. Justin Fields left Sunday’s 16-13 loss to the Baltimore Ravens in the third quarter with a rib injury and did not return.
Yes, the loss was crushing. A valiant effort from backup quarterback Andy Dalton gave the Bears the lead in the final minutes, only to be squandered by defensive breakdowns. Yes, it was borderline embarrassing. The defense allowed an undrafted rookie quarterback making his first start to drive 72 yards on five plays to win the game.
But the health of the starting quarterback is far more important than anything else that happened on the field. With their playoff hopes essentially dead, the second half of the 2021 season is all about developing Fields. That’s going to be a problem if Fields misses any amount of time.
The initial diagnosis is unclear. Bears coach Matt Nagy wouldn’t elaborate on the injury and he couldn’t say who might play when the Bears return to the field in just four days. Nagy declined to say if Fields had broken any ribs.
“I don’t know any of that right now,” Nagy said.
The Bears face a short turnaround with a Thanksgiving Day matchup against the Detroit Lions looming. They will face a Lions team that hasn’t won a game and was forced to start backup quarterback Tim Boyle on Sunday against the Cleveland Browns.
After a season-best performance from Fields two weeks ago in Pittsburgh, Sunday’s injury-shortened performance was more than a letdown for Bears fans. With Fields running things, the offense failed to score in the first half. The rookie finished his afternoon 4-for-11 passing for 79 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions. He was sacked twice, fumbling the ball away on one of them.
“Justin’s played his tail off,” Nagy said. “He’s played really well. ... Justin’s done everything that we’ve asked him to do to be able to grow as a quarterback. He got hurt. He’s done everything to be the starter and continue to be the starter.”
Fields injured himself sometime during the first possession of the second half. He never left the field during the possession, but took a sack at one point and scrambled for a 6-yard gain on his final play of the day.
Trainers attended to him on the team’s sideline and he entered the injury tent. Moments later, he walked out from under the tent and went back to the team locker room. Dalton began warming up at that point.
Dalton threw a dramatic go-ahead 49-yard touchdown pass to receiver Marquise Goodwin to give the Bears the lead with just under two minutes remaining in the game. It should’ve been the game-winning touchdown. Instead, Ravens quarterback Tyler Huntley marched his team the length of the field for their only touchdown of the day.
At this point, the 2021 season is lost. Sitting Fields on Thursday might be the smartest thing to do. That will, of course, depend on how bad the injury is. An Andy Dalton-led team should beat a winless Lions team. It would give Fields an extended layoff ahead of a Dec. 5 game against the Arizona Cardinals.
“Andy has showed us in practice, in games that he can hold his ground and do what he can do and he’s been doing it for a while,” receiver Darnell Mooney said. “So there’s no difference out there. We were able to go down there and put some points on the board.”
The Bears need Fields healthy for the home stretch.