After missing the past four games with a thumb injury, it appears that Justin Fields will finally be making his return to the field this coming Sunday against the Lions.
Fields has been under tremendous pressure since the moment he was selected with the 11th overall pick in the 2021 draft. That's what happens when the hopes and dreams of one of the most passionate fanbases in the NFL are pinned to you.
Fields has shown tantalizing flashes of brilliance in the time since swapping his Buckeyes helmet for a Bears one, but for most fans, the question still remains: can he be the guy to lead the Bears to greatness?
Time is running out for Justin Fields to make his case to the Chicago Bears
There's no denying that the Bears have struggled since Fields came to town, but the worst culprit in the team's 6-25 record with Fields as a starter is the defense, which has been at or near the bottom of the NFL for nearly his entire time at Halas Hall.
Fields was electric in the second half of 2022, but despite the occasional explosion this year(see Week 5's destruction of the Commanders), he has yet to display the consistency that separates the top quarterbacks in the league from the middle and bottom of the pack. With the Bears currently holding the #1 pick in next year's quarterback-rich draft thanks to the continued ineptitude of the Carolina Panthers, Fields has to prove that he's the man for the job in these final seven games.
Fields' performance from now through Week 18 has implications that will reverberate throughout the franchise for the next decade. More than just his own future, Fields likely controls the fates of Matt Eberflus, Luke Getsy, and possibly even Ryan Poles.
Not to overstate it, but Fields' play the rest of the way will have ripple effects beyond Soldier Field. If he steps up and convinces the Bears to hitch their wagons to him, the Bears can control the draft even more than they did this past year.
Caleb Williams and Drake Maye are the likely top two picks, and the Bears could net an even greater return on a trade down with a quarterback-needy team than they did when they dealt the #1 pick to the Panthers. This kind of windfall could allow the Bears to fortify multiple positions of need with young talent, catapulting them into contender status in a relatively weak NFC as soon as next year.
This would also allow the Bears to control where Williams or Maye ends up. Ryan Poles would likely look to deal with an AFC team like the Patriots, Raiders, or Jets instead of someone closer to home like the Giants, Falcons, or (never going to happen) the Packers or Vikings.
If Fields struggles, it's very likely that his time in Chicago could be done, as the prospect of starting fresh with Williams or Maye could be too tempting to ignore. As much as fans would talk themselves into one of these players finally overcoming decades of Chicago quarterback misery (and maybe Williams or Maye are good enough that they could actually do it), it would be incredibly sad to see the Fields era end in such a way.
Fields will get a chance to show his stuff against a wide variety of defenses before the end of the season. In the next three games, he'll see the Lions twice and the Vikings once, divisional foes that he is intimately familiar with. The Lions just won in Los Angeles against the Chargers, but their defense got lit up to the tune of 38 points and 421 yards, with Justin Herbert throwing for four touchdowns and over 300 yards, 175 of which went to Keenan Allen. There's no reason Fields and D.J. Moore can't have similar success.
A trip to Cleveland in Week 15 will be a phenomenal litmus test for Fields and the offense, as the Browns are allowing the fewest yards, and the fewest passing yards, in the NFL. Home games against the Cardinals and Falcons, both of which rank in the middle of the league in terms of passing yards allowed, are favorable spots for Fields to show his stuff.
The Bears finish the season at Green Bay, a bookend to the 38-20 Week 1 loss they suffered in Soldier Field. Fields was outplayed by Jordan Love in that game, but the Packers quarterback seems to have regressed as the year has gone on. It's crucial that Fields finds a way to turn the tables in Lambeau to leave Ryan Poles with a lasting impression going into the offseason, and to give Bears fans reason to believe that their days of being owned by the Packers are over.
One of the best moments for me as a Bears fan was spending all of Draft Day in 2021 hoping the team would trade up for Fields, and then, impossibly, it actually happened. As fans, we constantly have opinions of which players our teams should draft or sign, and which direction the franchise should go. This was one of the rare instances where my thinking and the thinking of the Bears' management aligned. If that ecstatic memory was the best thing I could take from the Justin Fields era in Chicago, it would be crushing.
I'm still not ready to admit defeat, though. I still believe in Justin Fields, and I think he's going to show us that he's finally ready for his close-up. Like Jon Snow standing alone with his sword at the ready against hundreds of charging enemies, I'll go down swinging if I have to. Now is your time, Justin. Do it.