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If you ever get the opportunity to be on the sidelines before, during or after an NFL or NCAA football game, you’ll come to appreciate the amount of work and effort that goes into these events every week. You’ll also realize how much medical support is down there on the field.
It’s there where we start this week’s Bears Things …
Thinking about Damar Hamlin
Do you ever wonder who all those people are on the sideline when you are watching games? From support staff, to trainers, to doctors, to the broadcast crew, to security and beyond, there are many people you’ve never heard of that are counted upon each week. Just on the medical side, there are trainers, team physicians, orthopedic surgeons, neurotrauma consultants, EMTs, chiropractors, and even a dentist.
What unfolded with Damar Hamlin on Monday night in Cincinnati was something many of those people are prepared for, but never want to have to act on. Emergency Action Plans (EAPs) are something put in place at all levels of sports, and we all sadly saw that EAP put into action in Cincinnati.
That EAP hopefully saved Damar Hamlin’s life after he went into cardiac arrest.
While there seemed to be a rush of people racing to their keyboards Monday night to chime in on a tragedy that was unfolding on live TV — and there still seems to be an odd obsession with whether or not the league tried to resume the game before the Bills and Bengals retreated to their lockers — I thought the situation was handled well by everyone involved. When there is an EAP for the medical personnel involved, there isn’t a blueprint to follow for everyone else. Players and coaches were very likely in some state of shock initially and perhaps wanted to try to play the game. After a few minutes, Bengals head coach Zac Taylor and Bills head coach Sean McDermott got together and agreed to take some more time before going back on the field.
I thought the situation was handled extremely well by everyone involved. The coaches, the officials, the league office, and the ESPN broadcast crew all got through an extremely tough hour in a way none of them could have been adequately prepared for. From the broadcast side of things, Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Suzy Kolber, Adam Schefter, Booger McFarland, Scott Van Pelt and Ryan Clark were all put in a position where they had to talk about something they had never seen before with zero information when all other topics were off limits. That’s not easy.
Credit to everyone involved, especially the first responders who got Hamlin on his way to the hospital and hopefully on the road to recovery.
Should the Bears play Justin Fields Sunday?
I was a firm believer Fields should have played last week in Detroit. It was a favorable matchup in a fast indoor track, putting him in a position to have at least one more strong performance to close out the season. Unfortunately, it was, based on my evaluation, his worst game since Week 3 against the Texans.
Now, does that mean the Bears should risk his health to get him back on track before the offseason? Not necessarily. The lack of protection and overall lack of health around him presents another risky scenario in Week 18.
I strongly agree with Matt Eberflus when he says live regular-season reps are important. As much as Fields will look to improve in the offseason, there’s nothing that compares with live reps, especially against a division rival.
But it’s more nuanced on that. Are the Vikings even playing their starters? What are the weather conditions like? Will the Soldier Field grass hold up?
What exactly will Fields get out of this game?
And then you have the No. 1 overall draft pick dangling over your head. If the Bears lose and the Texans beat the Colts, the Bears will be picking first overall for the first time in 76 years.
On the other hand, you also have the NFL’s single-season QB rushing record to consider. Fields is only 64 yards away from breaking Lamar Jackson’s mark of 1,206 rushing yards.
The point is, this is not an easy decision. I wouldn’t blame Eberflus and general manager Ryan Poles for erring on the side of caution. I also won’t crush them if they decide to play Fields and he gets hurt.
Who exactly wants to win this week?
I’m a firm believer that when the ball is kicked off, players and coaches are never actively trying to lose. It’s impossible to play the game of football that way. But that doesn’t mean that personnel decisions aren’t made based on playoff seeding and NFL Draft standing in Week 18. The Eagles pulling Jalen Hurts in favor of Nate Sudfeld in the fourth quarter of their last game in 2020 was certainly suspicious at best.
With that in mind, it’s very interesting to take a look at what the Bears, Vikings, Texans and Colts have to play for in their games this weekend, which will be played simultaneously.
Minnesota Vikings — If the Vikings were cruising into the playoffs playing their best football, then I could see a scenario in which they wouldn’t care much about being either the No. 2 or No. 3 seed. But they aren’t playing well right now and potentially hosting rookie 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy in a loud stadium like U.S. Bank Stadium instead of flying west to Santa Clara in the divisional round seems significant. Regardless, after their blowout loss in Green Bay, you’d think Minnesota would want a “get right” game. And who better to get right against than the Bears?
Houston Texans — The Texans were playing pretty good football over the last month before getting blown out by the Jaguars Sunday. But as bad as the Texans are, no team is struggling as much as the Indianapolis Colts right now, presenting a realistic situation in which the Texans win their finale and drop to the No. 2 overall pick in the NFL Draft. Oddly, this line opened up at Colts -9, but it’s been bet all the way down to -3 on Draftkings Sportsbook. Texans head coach Lovie Smith made it clear that they were going to try to win this game, so I don’t think we can rule out a Houston win on Sunday.
Indianapolis Colts — The Colts are an absolute mess and can lock in a top-five pick in the NFL Draft with a loss Sunday. Furthermore, you’d think they’d want to prevent the Texans from getting the No. 1 overall pick because it would create a scenario in which Indianapolis could trade up and take a quarterback ahead of their division rival. The Colts announced Sam Ehlinger will start a quarterback this week, although given how Nick Foles was playing, Ehlinger might be an upgrade.
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