Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields is set to return Sunday against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field.
Fields will make his first start since Oct. 15 after recovering from a dislocated right thumb. His comeback starts with the Bears’ first meeting this season with the NFC North-leading Lions (7-2). It’s the first of three straight division games for the Bears (3-7).
As kickoff approaches, here’s our snapshot look at the game.
Player in the spotlight
Coach Matt Eberflus said Friday that he could feel the excitement at Halas Hall this week as the Bears welcomed back Fields, who missed four games and is “champing at the bit” to play.
The Bears evaluated Fields’ operation playing with the injury all week — the quarterback’s first full week of practice — and Eberflus said he improved every day.
“You get that timing with the receivers on the concepts you’re running that particular week,” Eberflus said. “He got his footwork back where it needed to be. The accuracy was good, got better as the week went on.”
Fields said Wednesday that he was focused on Sunday’s game and not the big-picture implications of the final seven games of the season — when he will have to prove to Bears leadership that he should be the team’s future quarterback.
Eberflus echoed that Fields needs a microfocus so he doesn’t put too much pressure on himself as he returns against a Lions defense led by defensive end Aidan Hutchinson. The second pick of the 2022 draft has 4 1/2 sacks, 13 quarterback hits, four tackles for a loss, a forced fumble, an interception and four passes defended.
“Just operate the offense,” Eberflus said. “Protect the football. Operate the offense. Let the runners run, give it to them, let them do their thing. And when you have your chance and your opportunity when called, make it happen and let it flow. That’s really the message to him and what he has been focused on.”
What’s next for a healthier Bears defense?
The Bears could have most of their starting defense intact Sunday if linebacker Tremaine Edmunds returns from a knee injury that kept him out the last two games. Edmunds was limited in practice Friday and is listed as questionable to play.
The Bears would benefit from being full strength against one of the best offenses they have faced this season. The Lions rank second with 406.4 yards per game and sixth with 26.8 points per game. They boast a balanced attack, ranking fourth in both rushing and passing yards per game.
Quarterback Jared Goff has completed 68.4% of his passes for 2,507 yards, 14 touchdowns and five interceptions with just 15 sacks.
“The quarterback is talented,” cornerbacks coach Jon Hoke said. “He has seen a lot of football, and you can see that. The way he goes through his progression is so quick, and he knows where he needs to go with the football. He protects the ball well, does not throw many interceptions. Doesn’t take a whole lot of sacks, knows how to get rid of the ball.”
Wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown has 65 catches for 821 yards and four touchdowns, and rookie tight end Sam LaPorta has 47 catches for 474 yards and four touchdowns.
“Two really dynamic players at their respective positions,” Eberflus said. “St. Brown is just a fantastic player. … You talk about his strength and his quickness — his ability to stay open with his quickness but also be open with his strength if he is covered.
“Then the tight end is obviously a great get for those guys. He shows great athletic ability. He’s got a big catch radius, which allows him to stay open. But he understands the game and he understands how to use his body above his years. Him being a rookie, to me when I look at him he looks like a second- or third-year player.”
Keep an eye on …
After four seasons with the Bears, Montgomery, a 2019 third-round draft pick of former general manager Ryan Pace, opted to sign with the Lions in the offseason. Now, behind a very good offensive line, he’s on pace for the best season of his career.
Montgomery, who topped 1,000 rushing yards for the Bears in 2020, has rushed for 501 yards and seven touchdowns on 106 carries in six games.
“We know him pretty well,” linebackers coach Dave Borgonzi said. “Big, strong, hits the hole really fast, runs with great pad level, really good after contact, keeps his legs moving. Both backs, him and (Jahmyr) Gibbs, are dynamic.”
Gibbs, the 12th pick in the 2023 draft, has 90 carries for 476 yards and four touchdowns and 31 catches for 200 yards.
Borgonzi said Gibbs reminds him of New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara.
“He’s really good out of the backfield catching the ball,” Borgonzi said. “An interesting dynamic with Montgomery, who is more of the power back and Gibbs is more of the outside runner but dynamic in the open field. Can make people miss but also finishes runs.”
Khalil Herbert to return
Fields isn’t the only Bears player making a comeback this week.
Eberflus said the Bears planned to activate running back Khalil Herbert after he missed five games with a high ankle sprain. Herbert was the starting back with 51 carries for 272 yards before the injury.
Herbert said he was happy to see D’Onta Foreman succeed in his place and isn’t worried about how it will affect his opportunities. Foreman, who is questionable to play with an ankle injury, has 86 carries for 367 and three touchdowns.
“I always have the same mindset since I’ve been in the league: Get one carry and try and score,” Herbert said. “I try to make the most of whatever I can get, and I feel like he’s done the same thing and so have the other guys.”
Now the Bears must strike a balance between how they use the duo and rookie running back Roschon Johnson. Eberflus said they’ll have a plan for the reps but also will look at the flow of the game and who’s running well to determine which player to turn to.
“It’s just going to be a heck of a group effort,” Herbert said. “We’ve got guys in our room that can take it the distance and punish the defense. One guy goes out, another guy goes in. (The Lions) are going to be tired, but we’re going to be fresh. I feel like that’s a lot to defend.”
Along with Edmunds and Foreman, linebacker Jack Sanborn is questionable after he missed practice Friday with an illness. Linebacker Noah Sewell will be out with a knee injury.
For the Lions, defensive tackle Isaiah Buggs (illness) and guard Jonah Jackson (wrist/ankle) are out. Safety Ifeatu Melifonwu (hand) is questionable.
Brad Biggs (6-4)
This is the kind of game coach Matt Eberflus needs in the worst way. More than 1 1/2 seasons into his Bears tenure, he doesn’t have a signature win unless you count the 2022 opener in a driving rainstorm against the then-Trey Lance-led San Francisco 49ers. The Lions represent a step up in class since the Bears’ Week 2 game at Kansas City. It’s going to be a huge test for some young players, not just quarterback Justin Fields. Rookie tight tackle Darnell Wright will face a challenge going against Aidan Hutchinson. Second-year cornerback Kyler Gordon should draw a lot of work against super-shifty wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown. The Bears have been better on defense of late, but an upset is a big ask — they haven’t defeated an opponent with a winning record since Week 5 of 2021.
Lions 27, Bears 19
Colleen Kane (6-4)
I don’t know the last time I picked the Lions over the Bears — and yes, the Lions won both games last season — but there’s not much doubt this time about which team is team. The Bears are healthier than they have been for a lot of this season, with the offensive line at full strength and the defense nearing it. But the Lions pose a lot of problems, especially with multiple weapons on offense. Meanwhile, it’s hard to know what the Bears will get from Justin Fields in his return. Will he quickly get back in the groove he found in Weeks 4 and 5? Or will there be rust? Will the right thumb injury hinder him? I think the Lions keep rolling.
Lions 30, Bears 21
Dan Wiederer (7-3)
Justin Fields is back. And the Bears are playing a much more competitive and encouraging brand of defense these days. But the Lions are for real. They are playing at home in front of a suddenly optimistic crowd. And the Lions are laser focused on a one-step-at-a-time march toward winning the NFC North for the first time. Ever.
Lions 29, Bears 17