When Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields left the field at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday after a 27-24 loss to the Atlanta Falcons, he didn’t have much time to commiserate with teammates or catch up with family members that came to see him play an NFL game in his home state for the first time.
He sat down on the back of a cart outside of the visitors locker room and rode away, rubbing his left shoulder on the way to a medical evaluation.
Fields returned more than 20 minutes later and struggled to pull off his shirt as he discussed with safety Eddie Jackson the left shoulder injury he suffered on the Bears’ final drive. And when he spoke to reporters another 20 minutes after that, he seemed in obvious discomfort.
“The pain right now is pretty bad,” Fields said. “But I’ll just take it day by day and see how it feels later in the week.”
Much of the game felt like déjà vu to the Bears’ other losses during their four-game skid. A defensive performance that was not quite good enough. A costly special teams error. And an offense that couldn’t come through with a winning drive.
But Fields’ injury was the cruel twist, the variation that nobody on the Bears wanted to see in a season that is so much about the quarterback’s development.
Fields said he still was awaiting details on the injury and didn’t delve into any diagnosis, such as a potential separated shoulder. He also didn’t know whether it would keep him out this week leading up to the Week 12 game against the New York Jets.
But he did say he thinks the injury affects his throwing motion “a little bit.” It is different than the left shoulder issue he had earlier this season, he said.
“The doctors took a picture and said they were going to talk about it, go over it and just let me know later,” Fields said.
Bears coach Matt Eberflus said after the game that he still was waiting on an update on the injury and the team would provide information Wednesday.
“We’ll see where it goes,” Eberflus said. “We don’t know what it is.”
Fields wasn’t sure how the injury happened, except that it occurred was on the first play of the Bears’ final drive against the Falcons.
Fields took a designed run toward the left sideline for 1 yard before Falcons cornerback Dee Alford pulled him down by his left leg. Fields tumbled to the ground on his left side out of bounds and came up clutching the shoulder.
“I was hurting, but it was the last drive of the game, so I just tried to be there for my teammates and fight through the pain,” Fields said.
He walked back to the huddle wincing but stayed in, running for 4 yards and absorbing what Fields said was a late hit from Falcons defensive lineman Grady Jarrett. He clutched the shoulder again but ran a third-and-5 play, throwing a high pass to leaping running back David Montgomery.
The football bounced off Montgomery’s fingertips and into the arms of diving Falcons safety Jaylinn Hawkins. The interception sealed the game for the Falcons, who had taken a 27-24 lead on Younghoe Koo’s 53-yard field goal on the previous drive.
Perhaps it was telling of the difficulty Fields had playing through the injury when he seemed to struggle to find the right answer when asked about the pick.
“Just overthrew it, man,” Fields said. “I don’t even … I think I just overthrew it.”
Fields said he also dealt with leg cramps throughout the fourth quarter, with the broadcast cameras showing trainers stretching his legs on the sideline.
He had 18 carries for 85 yards and a touchdown in addtion to 153 passing yards and a touchdown. But he said he thought the cramps had less to do with the workload his legs have been getting and more about proper hydration.
“Playing in a dome today where the weather was cold, I was probably sweating a little bit more, the nutrients get out of you quicker,” Fields said. “So I’ve got to make sure I prepare before the game and hydrate and eat up.”
An obvious concern with Fields running so much over the last month — he averaged 111 rushing yards over the previous five games — is avoiding big hits and the injuries that might come with them. And he ran a lot Sunday.
He had a career high for carries, but his 4.7-yard average was the worst since Week 2.
Falcons coach Arthur Smith said his team was determined that “we weren’t going to turn our back and hand them anything.”
“Run him that many times and he’s a running back when he does that,” Smith said. “Guys tackle, keep it in front of you, make sure nobody turns their back. It wasn’t on one person. It’s team defense. Any game you get like that, a lot of carries add up.”
A lot of the talk in the Bears locker room after the game was about the offense still searching to come up with a winning drive after staying close in many of their eight losses.
The Bears had some highlight-reel plays on offense, including Fields’ 16-yard touchdown pass to Darnell Mooney, Fields’ perfect 32-yard pass to Montgomery and a one-handed grab by tight end Cole Kmet.
But they couldn’t come through in the end again.
“(Fields) takes it tough, man,” Kmet said. “He’s a competitor. We all want to win and want to win bad. It definitely hurts him a lot. He’s a winner at heart. He takes it tough. Going into this next week, you’ll see a dude that’s focused, ready to go and ready to move on to the next week.”
That is, of course, if Fields’ shoulder allows him to move forward.