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5 Takeaways: Bears’ season loses its greatest significance without Justin Fields

9 months agoChris Emma

CHICAGO – Hopes of stacking victories came up short for the Bears, who lost more than just this game Sunday at Soldier Field. 

The Bears suffered a 19-13 defeat to the rival Vikings, one in which they lost quarterback Justin Fields to a right hand injury. A disappointing day along the city’s lakefront could have lasting implications for a team that hoped to find Fields as its franchise quarterback this season. 

Here are the five takeaways from the Bears’ fifth loss of the season. 

1. Unenviable scenario unfolds

After being taken through the northwest tunnel of Soldier Field for further evaluation, Fields made his case to the Bears for retaking the field to finish this game. He was unable to properly grip the football and the team ruled out his return. 

Now, it’s a matter of how long Fields will be sidelined with this injury. X-rays were negative on Fields’ right hand but the Bears plan to conduct MRIs and further examinations on Monday to determine the true extent of the injury. 

Fields suffered the injury with 10:43 remaining in the third quarter as he was sacked on a third-and-7 play. Upon being brought to the Soldier Field sod, Fields landed awkwardly on his right hand. He was brought into the sideline medical tent for an initial evaluation, then later escorted through the tunnel by Bears personnel. 

The Bears turned to Tyson Bagent, an undrafted rookie out of Division-II Shepherd University, as their backup quarterback to replace Fields.  

Fields was 6-of-10 for 58 yards and an interception during his action. Bagent was 10-of-14 for 83 yards and an interception.  

“I was excited to get out there,” Bagent said. “Obviously, butterflies, playing in front of so many people and the stakes are high in the NFL. But I felt really prepared.” 

Bagent was named the Bears’ backup quarterback two weeks ago over veteran Nathan Peterman. He would continue forward as Chicago’s starter if Fields is required to miss time with the injury. 

A potential absence for Fields sets up a disastrous scenario for the Bears in the big picture – the possibility that he may not get a true evaluation in this pivotal third season of his career. 

The Bears elected last offseason to trade the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, landing a haul from the Panthers that included considerable draft capital and dynamic wide receiver DJ Moore. In doing so, general manager Ryan Poles was passing on the opportunity to select a coveted quarterback like Bryce Young (Panthers), C.J. Stroud (Texans) or Anthony Richardson (Colts). 

Poles wasn’t necessarily committing to Fields as the Bears’ franchise quarterback. Instead, he was punting into the 2024 offseason for a concise decision. He wanted to see this season whether or not Fields deserves Chicago’s significant investment. 

Fields had followed up a disappointing first three games of this season with the best two contests of his career during a loss to the Broncos and victory over the Commanders. The No. 10 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, Fields threw for 617 yards and 8 touchdowns in that two-game stretch. He had suddenly inspired hope of great progress and earned the benefit of the doubt for the rest of this season. 

The Bears (1-5) are once again staring down the possibility of a place at the top of the NFL Draft in 2024, this as they hold their own 1st-round selection and that of the Panthers (0-6). USC quarterback Caleb Williams is considered the clear-cut top prospect in this draft class and position at the top of the order holds great value – whether that’s in selecting Williams or trading down for another haul. 

With 11 games remaining this season for the Bears, the possibility of playing without Fields has a devastating impact for both the present and the near future.  

The most important aspect for Year 2 of Poles’ plan for the Bears was to identify whether or not Fields can become a franchise quarterback. Suddenly, this team may not get a fair chance to see through Fields’ potential this season. 

2. Bagent steps in

The circumstances of this unlikely professional debut for Bagent certainly weren’t clean, but such is life as a backup quarterback. Nevertheless, the former Division-II star played in the NFL for the first time on Sunday. 

Bagent became the Bears’ new quarterback once Fields departed with his injury. He scored his first NFL touchdown on a one-yard quarterback sneak but also produced a pair of costly turnovers, including a strip-sack that went for a scoop-and-score return.  

Bagent also badly underthrew an interception in the fourth quarter on a pass to Moore, who didn’t have a chance to make the play.  

If Fields is forced out of action, Bagent will be left to lead the Bears forward. 

“I’m obviously very confident in myself,” Bagent said. “Nothing changes for me. Since day one, I was preparing as if I was going to play the whole game. That’s just kind of how I approach the game. I like to know what’s going on at all times. Nothing is really going to change for this week.” 

The Bears signed Bagent as an undrafted free agent shortly after the final selections on Day 3 of the draft in April.  

Bagent threw for a Division-II record 17,034 passing yards and 159 touchdowns at Shepherd, marking the most ever at any level of NCAA football. He emerged with the Bears during their offseason program and into training camp, thriving with each opportunity and making an impression on his team. Veteran backup quarterback P.J. Walker – whom Chicago signed to a two-year, $4.15-million deal in March – was released prior to the start of the regular season as Bagent had secured a place on the active roster. 

Two weeks ago, the Bears shifted Bagent into the second spot on the depth chart over Peterman. That put him in position as the backup behind Fields. 

“He really created that himself,” Eberflus said of Bagent. “And we thought it was best going forward that he was the No. 2.” 

The Bears are anticipating clarity on Fields’ status early this week. That will allow them to prepare for whether it’s Fields or Bagent as their quarterback.  

Bagent has readied himself for this moment, even without knowing when it would come. He can now prepare himself like an NFL starter. 

“Tyson is up right now,” Moore said. “That’s who we’re about to roll with. Next man up.” 

3. Center decision

On a sequence of three straight plays in the third quarter, center Cody Whitehair had three consecutive poor snaps. It was the continuation of an alarming trend that saw the Bears make a change. 

Whitehair was benched late in the third quarter, with veteran Lucas Patrick stepping in at center. It was a notable move considering Whitehair is a nine-year veteran and one of the Bears’ most proven locker room leaders. 

Eberflus denied that Whitehair was benched, saying the decision was centered around favoring Patrick’s experience working with Bagent. 

“It was just more about settling down and putting the guy that had more experience at center,” Eberflus said. “We feel good about both guys.” 

The 31-year-old Whitehair has started 112 games in his career. He has played every single snap offensively in four of his nine seasons. 

Whitehair was not available for comment in the Bears’ locker room following the game. He has never played as a primary reserve during his career. 

4. Defense steps up

In suffering this loss, the Bears squandered their best defensive performance of the season. 

The Bears held the Vikings to just 220 total yards of offense on Sunday and allowed their fewest points since a 33-14 win over the Patriots late last October. Chicago’s defense was responsible for surrendering just 2 Greg Joseph field goals and 1 touchdown – a 10-yard connection from quarterback Kirk Cousins to rookie receiver Jordan Addison. Minnesota’s other touchdown came on the fumble return for a score by linebacker Jordan Hicks. 

The Bears’ defense featured full strength in the secondary with the returns of cornerback Jaylon Johnson, nickel cornerback Kyler Gordon and safety Eddie Jackson. 

“At the end of the day for us, it’s not good enough,” Johnson said of the loss. 

Jackson later left the game with a foot injury and did not return. Elijah Hicks, a seventh-round pick in 2022, stepped back in for Jackson at safety. 

Eberflus lamented the Bears losing the turnover margin as why they couldn’t pull off a win. Chicago’s defense forced just one takeaway as linebacker Tremaine Edmunds hauled in a Cousins fumble forced by fellow linebacker T.J. Edwards. 

The Vikings played without star wide receiver Justin Jefferson, who was placed on injured reserve last week with a hamstring injury. 

5. Davis suffers latest setback

Veteran right guard Nate Davis suffered a potentially serious injury to his right ankle during the first quarter of Sunday’s game. 

The injury occurred as Fields was hit in the pocket and appeared to land on the back of Davis’ right leg. After walking off under his own power, Davis was later carted back to the Bears’ locker room. 

Davis, 27, signed a three-year, $30-million deal with the Bears this offseason. He has played in four games this season, missing time while dealing with a death in the family. 

The Bears turned to second-year offensive lineman Ja’Tyre Carter in Davis’ place at right guard. Chicago’s offensive line featured a different look with Whitehair stepping back in at center and Teven Jenkins making his first start of the season at left guard. That of course changed once Whitehair was removed from the game. 

The Bears host the Raiders next Sunday at Soldier Field. 

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