DETROIT -- When Jamaal Williams plunged into the end zone early in the third quarter Sunday, the Bears' Week 17 game against the Detroit Lions was effectively over. The Lions led 31-10 at that point and were mauling the Bears on both sides of the ball.
It would have made sense for the Bears to pull quarterback Justin Fields at some point. They lost starting right guard Teven Jenkins early in the game and saw his backup Michael Schofield go down later.
Fields was under constant duress Sunday at Ford Field. At some point, the injury risks have to outweigh whatever valuable experience Fields might gain playing behind a patchwork offensive line in a blowout. But the Bears decided to keep putting Fields back out there Sunday.
They believed the ability to create positive momentum in the passing game was reason enough to keep Fields in the game.
"That's why late in the game we kept Justin in there, because we wanted him to get in-game experience," head coach Matt Eberflus said Sunday after the Bears' 41-10 loss to the Lions. "You can't really get that anywhere else. So that's why we decided as a staff and we decided working with Justin, he said, 'I want to be in there.' Credit to him, he's like, 'Coach, I'm still going out there. I want to be able to operate.' And his toughness, his grit, and he wants to be able to go out there and compete."
Fields went into the blue medical tent early in the game to get his hip worked on. Eberflus and his staff talked about pulling the second-year quarterback later in the blowout but ultimately decided against it.
"We certainly discussed it," Eberflus said. "Every single series, we're discussing it. We said, 'Let's get him out there. Let's get him out there and do another two-minute drive and get the experience.'"
The thought of coming out of the game never crossed Fields' mind, though.
Even though the Bears spent almost the entire second half trailing by three or more scores, the 23-year-old quarterback's desire to be out there never waned.
"Anytime I get to play this game, I don't take it for granted," Fields said after the loss. "Anytime I can play, I want to be out there, no matter who it's with. I know that my guys are fighting for me and they know that I'm fighting for them. That's all the motivation I need. To be honest with you, I don't care what the scoreboard is. If I have the chance to go out and play, I'll do it every time. I'll play my hardest."
Fields and the Bears' passing game started 2023 off on a sour note.
Facing one of the NFL's worst defenses, Fields went 7-for-21 for 75 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. He was sacked seven times and hit nine times by a Lions pass rush that dominated the Bears from the opening kick.
But the struggling line and high sack numbers didn't have the Bears putting Fields in bubble wrap. Instead, they kept trotting him out there, believing the reps in a blowout game are beneficial to his long-term growth.
That will be the same case next Sunday. There's no thought of sitting Fields. He'll be out there to lead the 3-13 Bears against the Minnesota Vikings at Soldier Field in Chicago's season finale.
"It'll be [general manager Ryan Poles] and I talking about it," Eberflus said. "If he's healthy and good to go, he's going. Got to get the experience. He's got to play and learn and get better every week."
Game reps are invaluable for a young quarterback. But the Bears' decision to keep playing Fields on Sunday bordered on malpractice.
Down 38-10 in the fourth quarter, the Bears were still running zone reads with Fields, giving the Lions' defense more chances to take shots at their franchise quarterback.
Should the season finale against the Vikings get out of hand next Sunday, the Bears need to do the right thing and take Fields' helmet. There's little he can get from another game behind a line that has failed to protect for the past 16 weeks.