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5 Takeaways: Bears left to lament a stunning loss

9 months agoChris Emma

CHICAGO – Along the course of this franchise-worst 14-game losing streak, the Bears have not suffered a loss quite as excruciating as this one Sunday at Soldier Field.

The Bears squandered a 21-point lead and lost 31-28 to the Broncos. It matched a franchise record for the largest lead surrendered in a loss. A game that was dominated by Chicago well into the third quarter swung to Denver in the final minutes and left Soldier Field stunned in the end.

Here are the five takeaways from the Bears’ crushing loss.

1. Critical call ‘just didn’t go our way’

Coach Matt Eberflus was forced into a critical decision with 2:57 remaining in a tie game. The Bears faced a fourth-and-1 from the Broncos’ 18-yard line and were seeking a path to victory. What followed was a crushing sequence that ended in defeat.

Eberflus’ mind was set on going for the first down with hopes of extended the drive, draining the remaining game clock and setting up a game-winning score. He kept kicker Cairo Santos on the sidelines and sent quarterback Justin Fields to the line of scrimmage.

Fields shifted under center and attempted to draw the Broncos offsides with a hard count. After burning a timeout to avoid a delay of game penalty, Eberflus sent Fields and the offense back out to the field once again – this time to run a play.

The play was a read option for Fields out of a shotgun snap. He elected to hand off to running back Khalil Herbert, who was met at the line of scrimmage by a wall of Broncos defenders and stopped short of the first-down marker.

Five plays later, Broncos kicker Wil Lutz booted the go-ahead 51-yard field goal over the outstretched arms of Bears defenders and through the south goal posts of Soldier Field. Despite the sudden turn, Eberflus stood by his decision not to kick a field goal on fourth-and-1 with the chance to reclaim the lead.

“Just because of the way we were running it,” Eberflus said. “It was a half a yard. So, I felt very confident about getting it right there. Every situation is different. You got to look at the game in its entirety. I felt that the way we were running the football and the confidence we had on offense in that moment, I would say that we’re going to do that right there.

“There’s a lot of plays that you can run there. You can run a bunch of different plays. That’s the play we chose. That’s the play we thought was best at the time.

“It’s about moving people off the ball, as we had been doing all day. We just got to execute in that moment.”

The Bears had rushed 31 times for a season-best 171 yards on the ground up to that point. Herbert had carried 18 times for 103 yards in the game. But they couldn’t manage that one more yard for a chance at victory.

Eberflus stood by his decision while Fields and the Bears appreciated the vote of confidence in electing to go for it on that key fourth down.

“If you get it, the game is over most likely,” Fields said. “You got to make them use their timeouts, probably get past the two-minute warning at least and then we’re kicking a field goal with under a minute left. I love the decision. It shows that coach has trust in us to convert on that in that situation. We just got to execute.

“If we would’ve got it, then I would be up here talking about how great of a call that was. It just didn’t go our way.”

Following Lutz’s go-ahead field goal, the Bears took over at the 25-yard line with 1:46 remaining in the game. Fields led the offense to midfield with 50 seconds remaining but was penalized for an intentional grounding penalty that set back a potential tying or winning drive.

On third-and-13 from their own 47-yard line with 38 seconds remaining, Fields was intercepted on a pass over the middle to tight end Cole Kmet. Broncos safety Kareem Jackson jumped in for the pick and the Broncos celebrated their first win of the season.

Eberflus and the Bears walked off to the northwest tunnel of Soldier Field having seen their opportunity at a breakthrough victory lost in stunning fashion.

2. Fields shines in defeat

Ever the competitor who grew accustomed to winning before he was selected by the Bears, Fields is now 5-24 as a starting quarterback in Chicago, with perhaps no loss more gut-wrenching than this one Sunday.

The final score of this game stuck with Fields more than any of his personal performance in what proved to be his best showing in the NFL. Fields threw for a career-best 335 total yards and 4 touchdowns, but he was left to lament a pair of costly turnovers in the fourth quarter that proved to be the difference.

Well after the Bears’ locker room had mostly cleared out, Fields remained in full uniform seated outside his locker stall and with a look of disbelief on his face.

“I wasn’t able to finish it off,” Fields said. “Of course it hurt. I don’t know, it’s just, yeah, emotions flowing everywhere.”

Fields’ performance was one that built hope for what he could still become as a quarterback. While last season revealed Fields’ playmaking abilities as a rushing quarterback, it seemed incomplete because of his lack of passing production. Sunday brought something different. Finally, he flourished throwing the football.

Fields set a new Bears record with 16 consecutive completions – each coming on his first 16 attempts of the game – before a desperation Hail Mary heave at the end of the first half ended that streak. He hit on a beautiful pass to top target DJ Moore for a 29-yard touchdown on the first play of the second quarter, then later found an opening for Kmet on a 22-yard scoring strike.

Fields’ 3rd touchdown came on a rollout to the right in the second quarter. He created an opening in the end zone for Kmet, stopping his rush and throwing across his body for the touchdown. The 4th touchdown was perhaps the best from Fields as he juked Broncos pass rusher Nik Bonitto and found Herbert for the score.

The Bears posted 471 total yards of offense and 6.7 yards per play. In facing a struggling Broncos defense that allowed 70 points last Sunday to the Dolphins, Fields and the Bears had their way for most of this game.

“I was just happy that we were rolling,” Moore said. “I got to see the real us. That was nice.”

But Fields’ impressive performance was marked by miscues late that proved costly for the Bears. With 7:05 remaining in the game, he was stripped of the football by Bonitto and linebacker Jonathon Cooper scooped it up to run 35 yards for the game-tying touchdown.

With the Bears trailing 31-28 and 1:46 on the clock, Fields had the opportunity to lead a defining drive and a victory. He instead misfired to Kmet on an interception, attempting to throw him open off a route over the middle. Jackson swept in for the pick that sealed a win for the Broncos.

“I’ve got to be better in that situation,” Fields said. “We’ve just got to finish.”

3. Claypool stays home

In forming their 46-man game day roster for Sunday, the Bears elected to leave out wide receiver Chase Claypool. He was curiously made a healthy scratch and told by the team to stay home from Soldier Field

Claypool was left out of the Bears’ plans just two days after he revealed to reporters that he felt the coaching staff was not putting him in the best position to be successful.

“I’m not going to give any pointers,” Claypool added in addressing reporters Friday. “That’s their job to decide, and I’ll just do what they tell me to do.”

Eberflus said those comments did not factor into the Bears’ decision on Claypool’s status. However, Eberflus initially claimed that it was Claypool’s decision to stay home from Soldier Field. The Bears later said that it was a team decision. Inactive players are typically present on game day. Cornerback Jaylon Johnson and safety Eddie Jackson, who were each sidelined Sunday due to injuries, were present with the Bears in the locker room after the game.

Acquired by the Bears in a trade last year, Claypool has just 18 receptions for 191 yards and 1 touchdown over 10 games with the team. This season, Claypool hast four receptions for 51 yards and a touchdown. His blocking and effort have come into question early this season.

Fields said he spoke with Claypool after the Bears’ decision was made and hopes he remains part of this team.

“Of course,” Fields said. “He’s a weapon. He’s passionate. He just has to work on his display of his emotions.”

4. Hey, Mr. DJ

Early last week, the Bears spoke of their emphasis to prioritize their top target Moore. On Sunday, they put that plan into action.

Moore finished with 8 receptions for 131 yards and his 2nd touchdown in a Bears uniform as Fields continued to find him with the football. Moore is up to 19 receptions for 301 yards and 2 touchdowns in his first four games with the Bears.

“When you have a player like that, you always want to give him the ball,” Fields said earlier this week. “But (an opposing) defense knows that. It’s not like they don’t know he’s probably our best receiver, so they’re going to put two guys over him, they’re going to cloud his side.

“When we do get those (opportunities), we definitely want to get him the route for sure.”

It feels like Moore is the focal point of the Bears’ plans on offense now, the dynamic top receiver that the Bears envisioned they were acquiring.

Moore was the centerpiece landed by the Bears in the March blockbuster deal that sent the No. 1 overall pick to the Panthers. General manager Ryan Poles elected for Moore’s inclusion instead of a 2025 first-round pick, making that the key piece allowing this deal to occur.

Moore is on pace for just over 80 receptions on the season. But if he remains healthy and the Bears continue to ensure he gets the football, he can surpass 100 catches as part of this offense.

5. ‘We all want to win’

The Bears have lost 14 consecutive games, opened a season with renewed hopes at 0-4 and are looking at the remainder of this season with great uncertainty.

Eberflus and Poles will see great scrutiny now at 3-18 in their regime. New Bears president and CEO Kevin Warren is constantly evaluating the state of this football team with a critical eye.

After a brutal loss, the Bears now face a short week as they prepare to face the Commanders on Thursday night at FedEx Field.

“We will stay together,” pass rusher DeMarcus Walker said. “We all love football. We all love our jobs. And we all want to win.”

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