5 Takeaways: Bears drop a victory they had to have
With the opportunity to claim a win in Cleveland, continue a winning streak to three and legitimize their chances for a playoff push, the Bears couldn’t hold on.
As the last-second Hail Mary heave landed in the hands of Darnell Mooney, the football slipped away from his grasp. This game that was there for the taking was dropped by the Bears in heartbreaking fashion.
Here are the five takeaways from this loss.
1. Opportunity lost
Over the course of these last four weeks, the Bears have set their sights on the goal of winning out to finish 9-8. They began to believe it was truly possible – and a postseason spot could be theirs for the taking.
“The guys in this locker room truly believe what type of team we are,” veteran running back D’Onta Foreman said last week. “And we truly believe that we can beat anybody.”
Though these aspirations were mathematically a longshot, the Bears held firm in their belief. Those hopes were dashed with the devastation of this Sunday in Cleveland.
With five seconds remaining and the Bears trailing 20-17, Justin Fields rolled out to his left and bought himself space. He stepped into a Hail Mary thrown into a crowd waiting in the end zone. The pass deflected from the pack down towards the turf, where Mooney was falling backwards as he stretched his arms out for the football. But as his momentum pulled backwards, he lost control of the catch.
Sunday’s game marked the third time this season in which the Bears have squandered a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter. This time, it felt especially cruel.
After winning consecutive games for the first time under the watch of head coach Matt Eberflus, the Bears believed they had put adversity in the past and pushed forward as a true contender. The investment of every player and coach inside of Halas Hall was being rewarded with success. This team felt it could be like the Lions or Jaguars of last season, overcoming a poor start to the season and pushing towards the postseason.
This seemed to be a potentially galvanizing moment in Eberflus’ tenure, one that has been building with progress. A loss like this one is a crushing setback.
But the Bears didn’t simply come one play away from winning this game. They were let down by a struggling offense that was humbled by the Browns, posting just 236 total net yards and 3.4 yards per play on Sunday. Fields was 19-of-40 for 166 yards, 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions. Chicago rushed 27 times for just 88 yards and Foreman, the team’s leading rusher on the season, carried 6 times for minus-6 yards.
The Bears’ defense was dominant for three quarters and then faltered in the fourth quarter. With 3:08 remaining in the game, Joe Flacco found Amari Cooper on a strike to the right side that resulted in a 51-yard touchdown to tie the game. The Browns set up the go-ahead field goal after completing a 3rd-and-15 strike to a wide-open David Njoku that went for 34 yards.
Eberflus dialed up an aggressive blitz on Flacco and the Bears’ nearest defender was defensive tackle Justin Jones. It was another glaring breakdown by a team that has had its share this season.
When the Bears blew a 28-7 lead to the Broncos in early October, this was still a struggling football team desperate for success. When they blew a 26-14 lead to the Lions in November, it was the reflection of a group that hadn’t learned to win just yet.
This one just hurts for a Bears team that was building momentum and fortifying its belief.
2. The Mooney blues
Darnell Mooney has been waiting for a moment like this, with the game falling right into his lap.
Perhaps there’s no more frustrated player on the Bears’ roster than the 26-year-old Mooney, who went from being the team’s No. 1 wide receiver to a diminished role on offense. Mooney had just 2 receptions for 14 yards on a season-high 8 targets.
Two years after posting 81 receptions for 1,055 yards, Mooney has 29 catches for 409 yards.
“I will not be a distraction to myself or my team,” Mooney said last week when asked about his frustration.
With the arrival of new No. 1 target DJ Moore, Mooney has taken a backseat in the Bears’ plans. That comes during a contract year in which he hoped to shine.
Mooney is set to become an unrestricted free agent during what has been a disappointing fourth season in his career. The Bears value Mooney as a teammate but he certainly isn’t making a case for a lucrative long-term extension.
Mooney may be a player who’s better off with a change of scenery, leaving the Bears in the open market and proving what he can be.
On Sunday, Mooney had grasp of the defining moment of his season and the game-winning touchdown for the Bears. He couldn’t hold on.
3. Offensive woes start with Getsy
With a 17-10 lead, the Bears faced a crucial 3rd-and-1 early in the fourth quarter. They ran one of the most perplexing, maddening plays that Luke Getsy has ever called.
The Bears ran an end-around handoff to Tyler Scott, who was blown up by Browns defensive end Alex Wright – left completely unblocked. This almost certainly wasn’t what Getsy had designed but why was this the call in the first place?
Getsy is often his own worst enemy as a play caller. He has helped build the Bears an offensive identity that better suits their personnel, but so often dials up a play selection that doesn’t fit the moment.
The Bears’ offensive woes weren’t simply all Getsy’s fault on Sunday. Fields was inconsistent and often struggled against the Browns’ pressuring defense. The protection struggled to contain the blitz throughout this game. Robert Tonyan had the second-most stunning drop on a sure touchdown in the first half. There were miscues all around.
But Getsy is an embattled offensive coordinator whose fate is in question heading into this offseason. Regardless of whether the Bears fire or retain Matt Eberflus as head coach, Getsy’s place leading this offense is worth exploring.
Getsy himself acknowledged the pressure he’s facing.
“There’s no pressure or urgency more than I put on myself, that we put on ourselves as a staff to make this as good of a unit as possible,” Getsy said early this month. “There’s got to be progress each week, and I feel like there has been.
“Now, it’s not consistent enough, that’s for sure, for where we want to go and what we want to be. But it’s about that progress.”
Progress was lost on Sunday as the Bears’ offense struggled once again.
4. Defense shines, then stumbles
Through three quarters, the Bears were in position to win because of their defense. That unit unraveled in the final 15 minutes.
The Bears had two costly breakdowns in the fourth quarter that swung this game to the Browns that spoiled a strong performance. Cleveland’s rushing offense was held to just 29 yards and Joe Flacco was picked off three times.
Early in the third quarter, linebacker Tremaine Edmunds pulled in a deflected pass and took it to the end zone for a pick-six. Veteran safety Eddie Jackson nearly had a pick-six of his own in the first quarter, coming up one yard shy in returning his first interception of the season.
But Flacco made the throws late in the game to lead the Browns’ comeback. He finished 28-of-44 for 374 yards, 2 touchdowns and those 3 picks.
5. No. 1 pick watch
As the Bears lost their late lead in Cleveland, the Panthers pulled through with a win in Carolina.
The Panthers earned a 9-7 win over the Falcons, snapping a six-game losing streak and improving to 2-12 on the season. With that result, Carolina’s edge on the No. 1 overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft went down to just one game over the Patriots (3-11) and Cardinals (3-11).
The Bears have looked ahead to the likelihood of landing the first overall pick in the draft, knowing they face a decision ahead on Justin Fields and their own future at quarterback. But it’s not set in stone by any means.
What if the Panthers win two or three more games down the stretch and the Bears end up with the second or third overall pick? Suddenly, are they forced into investing in Fields this offseason?
It’s yet another fascinating development of these final three weeks of the season – with the Bears preparing for what should be a pivotal offseason to come.