Even when the Bears committed to quarterback Justin Fields, they didn’t rule out a future without him.
That was, after all, the motivation behind general manager Ryan Poles trading the No. 1 overall pick to the Panthers for, among other things, their first-round pick in 2024. If Fields didn’t convince the Bears he could be their quarterback of the future this season, they would have ammunition to move up and draft a quarterback who might be.
That held true even as Fields threw four touchdown passes in back-to-back starts the last two weeks. On Saturday night, Poles was among the GMs in attendance to watch presumptive top pick Caleb Williams, USC’s star quarterback, play at Notre Dame.
On Sunday, however, life without Fields came at the Bears (1-5) fast. And it might stay that way for a while.
Fields dislocated his right thumb, a source confirmed, in the third quarter of the Bears’ 19-13 loss to the Vikings — who also entered the game 1-4 — at Soldier Field.
X-rays taken during the game didn’t show a break, coach Matt Eberflus said. The Bears will await the results of an MRI exam Monday — MRIs give a more accurate picture of potential ligament damage — before settling on the extent of the injury and how long Fields might be out.
Eberflus said Fields lobbied to return to the game but couldn’t grip a football.
‘‘He goes, ‘Coach, we’ll see where it is [Monday],’ ’’ Eberflus said. ‘‘He was positive and he was upbeat.’’
The same can’t be said for those who packed Soldier Field for yet another loss.
The consequences of Fields’ absence are heady. How long will it take for Fields to throw the ball accurately and without pain? Can he return in time to state his case that he can be the Bears’ quarterback in 2024 and beyond? If the Bears keep losing in his absence, will they be motivated to race him back, given the draft stakes that reward losing? And what happens if backup Tyson Bagent is good?
Just 10 days ago, Fields was leading what looked to be an offensive resurgence — albeit against terrible defenses. Now the Bears have to prepare for life without him, even if it’s just for a few weeks.
‘‘It’s tough,’’ tight end Cole Kmet said. ‘‘We made good progress, I thought, the past couple of weeks, and [we were] obviously not up to the standards of the past two weeks.’’
In Weeks 4 and 5, the Bears totaled the most yards and averaged the second-most points in the league. In their victory against the Commanders — their only victory in their last 15 games — the Bears averaged seven yards per play.
In the first half Sunday, they totaled two field goals and averaged 4.4 yards per play. Fields was 6-for-10 for 58 yards with an interception. He was sacked three times and had a 36.7 passer rating. Fans who haven’t seen a home victory since Sept. 25, 2022, booed the Bears’ offense in the first half.
‘‘We thought we were getting somewhere offensively,’’ Kmet said. ‘‘We didn’t hold up our end of the bargain.’’
Fields was hurt on the Vikings’ fourth sack. He had scrambled twice on the Bears’ first drive of the second half before getting sacked about five minutes into the third quarter on third-and-seven.
FIelds rolled left and was tackled from behind by Vikings edge rusher Danielle Hunter. As Fields was falling, he flipped the ball incomplete, though he was ruled down. His left forearm hit the ground first, and then, with the force of his body weight, his right hand landed on the turf. When his teammates went to help him up, Fields wouldn’t let them grab him by the right hand. He went straight to the Bears’ injury tent, then to the locker room.
Fields was replaced by Bagent, an undrafted rookie from Division II Shepherd University. He was the team’s only option; as the emergency third quarterback, veteran Nathan Peterman couldn’t enter unless both the first- and second-stringers were injured.
Bagent, who never had played a regular-season snap to that point, got a cruel welcome to the NFL. On his third play, he was sacked by Vikings safety Josh Metellus and fumbled. Linebacker Jordan Hicks scooped up the ball at the Bears’ 42 and ran up the left sideline for a touchdown. The Bears trailed 19-6.
A somber crowd came to life when Vikings kicker Greg Joseph missed a 57-yard field goal. The Bears sputtered on the ensuing drive, going three-and-out, but were sharp after forcing one of their own. They drove 77 yards, getting five first downs, and Bagent ran for a one-yard touchdown to pull the Bears to 19-13.
Another three-and-out gave the Bears the ball back with 6:44 left. They had moved 41 yards on eight plays when, just seconds before the two-minute warning, Bagent launched a pass toward receiver DJ Moore down the left sideline. It was well short, and cornerback Byron Murphy Jr. had time to camp beneath it at the Vikings’ 7, intercept the ball and return it 35 yards.
The Vikings ran out the clock.
Bagent finished 10-for-14 for 83 yards with one interception. He was sacked once and had a 56.5 passer rating.
If Fields can’t go, Bagent will get his first start Sunday against the Raiders.
‘‘Justin, if he’s back, that’s fine,’’ Eberflus said. ‘‘If he isn’t, obviously we’ve already put that plan in place with Bagent. So you’ll see that come to fruition here coming shortly.’’