QB Justin Fields brings thrill — and purpose — back to Bears when he returns vs. Lions

Fields’ 91.6 passer rating, 200.2 yards passing per game and 61.7 completion percentage all are on track for career highs.

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The criticisms of Bears quarterback Justin Fields are many, and his path to proving he’s the future of the franchise is narrow with seven games left.

But the thrill is back.

And so is the purpose.

For all his flaws, Fields will bring excitement to the Bears’ offense when he returns Sunday against the Lions in Detroit. Anything can happen with him on the field; the key is whether he can amaze consistently. And now that he’s back, the Bears can resume their mission of determining whether to build around him.

That’s a much different endeavor than what they pursued in his absence. When backup quarterback Tyson Bagent started the last four games while Fields was out with a dislocated right thumb, the Bears simply were trying to see whether he could make it in the NFL and keep them afloat.

The stakes are far higher with Fields.

He’s still a mystery to the Bears, and given that they might end up with the No. 1 pick in the draft again after this season, they need to solve it quickly. Is Fields the player who often struggles merely to reach 200 yards passing, or is he a multidimensional threat who can propel the Bears into contention next season?

His burden to prove that, coupled with the Bears’ urgency to find out, makes the rest of the season compelling, even as the team sits at the bottom of the NFC North at 3-7.

Fields said none of that will be on his mind and added, ‘‘I’m not here to prove anything to anybody,’’ but he’s smart and surely knows what’s on the line. It’s better for him, however, to set it aside and focus on what’s in front of him.

Receiver Darnell Mooney, one of Fields’ closest friends, said his message to the quarterback was, ‘‘Don’t think about all those things.’’ The best approach Fields can take is to play freely and confidently.

‘‘Just go out there and play ball,’’ Mooney advised. ‘‘Don’t doubt yourself in any fashion. Just play ball, and we’ll help you find your groove back.’’

Fields might have been on the brink of getting into that groove before he got hurt. Or it might have been yet another false positive against some of the NFL’s worst defenses. He’s three seasons into his career, and the Bears don’t have their answer — which, in a way, is an answer in itself. If they’re still unsure by the end of the season, it will be time to move on.

Fields was bad in the first three games, especially in a pitiful performance against the Chiefs right after saying the Bears were over-coaching him. Then he roared with 617 yards passing and eight touchdown passes in two games against the Broncos and Commanders, though it bears noting that Fields was central to the collapse against the Broncos with two egregious turnovers.

Nonetheless, the Bears felt great about him then. Coach Matt Eberflus talked about it as a springboard to stardom.

But it seems to have been swept aside that Fields was struggling again in the next game. When he got hurt Oct. 15 against the Vikings, he was 6-for-10 for 58 yards with an interception as the Bears trailed 12-6 in the third quarter. That sounds far too familiar.

There’s still potential, however, and that’s where the electricity comes from. Fields has made 33 plays of 30-plus yards in 33 games, highlighted by a 67-yard touchdown run last season at Ford Field.

There’s a chance of disaster every time he has the ball, but there’s also a chance of him doing something incredible. And that’s worth watching.

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