Matt Eberflus said there is no sleight of hand in the Chicago Bears’ decision to start Nathan Peterman at quarterback in Sunday’s season finale against the Minnesota Vikings.
The coach avoided the “day-to-day” dance he often has done in the name of gamesmanship with injuries in his first season at Halas Hall, announcing Wednesday morning that starter Justin Fields showed up Monday with a sore hip, and a subsequent MRI revealed a strain. The medical staff will not clear Fields this week, so he’s already ruled out for the game at Soldier Field, meaning Lamar Jackson’s single-season rushing record for quarterbacks is safe.
The No. 1 pick in the 2023 draft is in play, and the Bears (3-13) can secure it with a loss to the Vikings and a win by the Houston Texans (2-13-1), who play at the Indianapolis Colts (4-11-1). The Bears will pick no lower than second with a loss.
It marks the sixth game Fields, who is 5-20 as a starter, will miss because of injury at the end of his second season. He missed the Week 12 loss to the New York Jets with a left shoulder injury and missed two games at separate points as a rookie with ribs and ankle injuries.
This injury isn’t “long term,” according to Eberflus, but the coach insisted it’s enough that Fields would be sidelined if this is were a playoff game.
“He’s just not able to go full speed,” Eberflus said. “I asked him how it was today and he said it’s still real sore.”
The Bears have lost a franchise-record nine consecutive games, eight of them with Fields starting, and a 14th loss Sunday would be the most in 103 seasons of Bears football. Fields passed for only 75 yards Sunday in a 41-10 road loss to the Detroit Lions, the second time this season he was held under 100 yards (70 in a 27-10 loss to the Green Bay Packers in Week 2).
In the aftermath of the loss to the Lions, Eberflus was emphatic that Fields would start against the Vikings, and he and general manager Ryan Poles (speaking to WBBM-AM 780) both said there was value in game opportunities at the end of a brutal season.
Eberflus’ tune shifted Monday when he said the team would evaluate the health of players before making decisions on availability for the Vikings game. The offensive line did a poor job of protecting Fields in Detroit as he was sacked a season-high seven times.
Asked what he would say to those suggesting the Bears are not playing Fields to enhance their draft standing, Eberflus reiterated it’s a medical issue and he won’t clear that first hurdle to get on the field this week.
The Bears have lost eight straight against NFC North foes, but Sunday’s game opened as a pick‘em in Las Vegas sportsbooks as oddsmakers had questions about how motivated the Vikings would be because they are very unlikely to be able to improve their playoff seeding with a victory. The line surged to Vikings by more than a touchdown after the news broke that Peterman will start.
At this time next week, Eberflus and his staff will be spending time evaluating Fields, who completed 60.4% of his passes for 2,242 yards with 17 touchdown, 11 interceptions and an 85.2 passer rating. He was sacked a league-high 55 times — the Denver Broncos’ Russell Wilson is the only passer near him at 53. Fields ran for 1,143 yards (7.1 average), becoming the third quarterback in NFL history to top 1,000 yards. Fields needed 64 yards against the Vikings to eclipse Jackson’s record of 1,206, set in 2019.
The Bears are last in the league in passing by a wide margin. Twenty-four teams have 1,000 or more yards throwing the ball. Six are more than 2,000 ahead.
At this point, can Eberflus wrap his arms around Fields’ season and identify specific steps required in the offseason ahead?
“We had a chance to visit a long time (Tuesday) about what we’re discussing, his improvements and all those things,” Eberflus said. “I want more time to be able to process that and go through it with the coaches and with him so we can have a detailed played for him.”
On the WBBM pregame show Sunday, Poles said the next step for Fields will be improving as a passer. Obviously the Bears have their work cut out for them to improve the offensive like and also get him help at wide receiver.
Peterman, who began the season on the practice squad and ascended to No. 2 after Trevor Siemian suffered an oblique injury in pregame warmups for the Jets game, will get his fourth career starter.
Peterman was routed by the Bears 41-9 in his last start as a member of the Buffalo Bills on Nov. 4, 2018, throwing three interceptions. That was more than four years ago, when the belief was a championship window was swinging wide open for the Bears.
Now they’re in play for the top pick in the draft and inching their way toward the finish line of a season that has possibly created more questions than it has provided answers.
The Texans can lock up the top pick by simply losing to the Colts. The Texans were blown out by the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday a week after they defeated the Tennessee Titans for their second win. That came on the heels of narrow losses to the Dallas Cowboys and Kansas City Chiefs, so Lovie Smith’s team has been battling down the stretch. The Colts have lost six consecutive games and been outscored 58-13, and they’re another team that can enhance draft position by losing.
“I’ve been asked this question a few weeks because we’ve been in that role,” Smith said to reporters Monday when asked about the No. 1 pick. “I understand it. We’ve been trying to win for a long period of time, every game. None of that has changed. We’re going to go to work this week and do everything we possibly can to win this last game.”
The Bears said they’re doing the same thing — but their No. 1 quarterback won’t play. Peterman is smart enough to know some will suggest he’s playing because the Bears don’t want to end their long slide.
“I try not to think about the outside stuff and what other people think,” he said. “I’m very focused on going out there, playing great and winning a football game. That’s all you can do every time you go out there. I’m excited. Trying not to listen to the outside noise too much.”