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5 Takeaways: Where do the Bears go from here?

1 year agoChris Emma

CHICAGO, Ill. — Ultimately, a game of many deciding moments came down to just one play and a matter of inches. Receiver Darnell Mooney hauled in a catch on second effort but was stopped just shy of the goal line, the Bears coming up barely short in a 12-7 loss to the Commanders on Thursday night at Soldier Field.

The Bears fell to 2-4 on the season and have been handed their most painful loss to process. Quarterback Justin Fields, who limped off the field after giving his team a chance, couldn’t help but to hang his head to the floor in the home locker room at Soldier Field. Players patted each other on the shoulder on the way out the door.

This was a game the Bears so badly wanted to win — and recognized their many chances in falling short.

Here are the five takeaways from the Bears’ loss to the Commanders:

1. ‘Close’

Bears coach Matt Eberflus wants to instill belief in his players that they are better than what most on the outside believe. He hopes they continue to respond and go prove their worth as a team.

Eberflus offered a message to the Bears this week about how they’re simply a few plays away from turning losses into wins. It’s why this game brought such a punch to the gut.

“We always get told that we’re almost there, almost there,” Fields said. “Me personally, I’m tired of being almost there. I’m tired of being this close. I feel like I’ve been hearing it for so long,” Fields said. “At the end of the day, all you can do is get back to work.”

But the Bears aren’t simply being stopped inches shy of the goal line with the game on the line. They’re making the mistakes that create even that scenario. Mooney would’ve had a go-ahead touchdown catch if he hadn’t loss that fourth-and-goal pass in the Soldier Field lights. He was able to haul it in through a second effort off the bobble but his momentum had crossed the end zone to the 1-yard line.

“I’m literally talking to myself, like, ‘Please give me this ball. Give me this ball,’” Mooney said of that fourth-down play. “I just got to close the game for us. If I want to be that player, if I want to be that guy for our team. I got to make that play, for sure.

“At the end of the day, that last play, I had an opportunity to make a play. Whatever happened in the first or second quarter doesn’t matter. I had a play. It came down to it. Just catch the ball on the first time and we win the game.”

On the previous play, Fields lofted a pass to receiver Dante Pettis in the back of the end zone but he wasn’t able to corral the football. The Bears pleaded their case for pass interference — “That was a P.I. that we didn’t get,” Fields said — but it was a play that could’ve been made. There were many more throughout the course of the game.

During the first quarter, Fields threw an interception that hit off the helmet of Commanders defensive lineman Efe Obuda and landed in the hands of his Washington teammate Jonathan Allen. It marked the first of three empty possessions for the Bears inside the red zone — three opportunities in goal-to-go that resulted in zero points.

Fields’ worst moment of Thursday night came during the second quarter on a second-and-goal play from three yards. Bears offensive coordinator Luke Getsy schemed an opening for tight end Ryan Griffin and Fields sailed the football over his head.

“I got to hit that,” Fields said. “I’m an NFL quarterback. I got to hit that.”

For Fields and the Bears, there have certainly been missed opportunities but plenty more of their own miscues. They are every bit this 2-4 mark through six games and haven’t influenced the national narratives that followed them into this season.

Eberflus wants the Bears to believe they’re close but it sure seems like there’s a long way to go.

2. ‘Step forward’

The final stat line for Fields was 14-of-27 for 190 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 interception, plus 12 carries for 88 yards. But there’s a lot to unpack from this performance.

Fields and the Bears scored just once on his 40-yard strike to Pettis in the third quarter. He also produced one of the more electrifying plays of his 18-game career in running 39 yards into goal-to-go territory with 52 seconds remaining.

But there was also that interception off the helmet of Obada, the misfired pass to Griffin on a sure touchdown, and plenty of plays to lament in this loss.

Eberflus saw continued progress from Fields on Thursday night, even if the results were mixed.

“I think he took a step forward,” Eberflus said. “I really do.”

The Bears pointed to Fields as the reason they had a chance to win this game in the final minute. He was forced to battle through pain after taking a number of hits from countless Commanders pressure, including one to re-aggravate a left shoulder injury.

Fields underwent postgame medical evaluations but believes he will be fine heading into Week 7 preparations.

“Tough guy,” Mooney said. “He’s the heart of our team, heart of our offense, sparks everything for our offense.”

3. Missing returns

Bears rookie Velus Jones was brought in as a third-round pick because this team believed he could be an explosive piece in Chicago. Unfortunately, he has hurt his own team through three games more than the opponents.

Jones muffed a punt from the Commanders with 8:18 remaining in the fourth quarter and the Bears owning a 7-6 lead. Washington landed on the loose football at the 6-yard line and scored two plays later.

Jones also muffed a punt return two weeks ago in the Bears’ loss to the Giants at MetLife Stadium, a costly error in the fourth quarter that allowed New York to seal its victory.

Eberflus made it seem that a change could be coming for the Bears’ special teams.

“We are going to have to look at that,” Eberflus said of Jones’ role. “Number one job of kick returner or punt returner is to catch the ball, so we are going to have to look at that.”

4. Where’s the rush?

With the Commanders facing third down on their opening drive, Bears safety Jaquan Brisker lined up at the line of scrimmage. He was disguising a blitz off the edge, going untouched for a sack of quarterback Carson Wentz.

But it was one of just three sacks for the Bears against Wentz, who entered Week 6 as the second-most sacked quarterback in the NFL. Bears defensive coordinator Alan Williams was forced to rely on exotic blitzes to create pressure, a concept that goes against this defensive identity. Eberflus and Williams prefer to rush their four defensive lineman and create pressure organically.

Is Eberflus satisfied with the pass rush?

“The answer to that is never satisfied with the pass rush,” Eberflus said. “Always got to be better.”

The Bears have forced just 11 sacks through six games this season.

5. Line change?

The Bears continued on Thursday night with their same offensive line configuration.

Rookie Braxton Jones remained as the starter at left tackle, veteran Lucas Patrick filled the void of Cody Whitehair at left guard, Sam Mustipher stayed as the starting center, Teven Jenkins operated at right guard and Larry Borom was the right tackle.

But with the struggles of this offensive line, could a shakeup be coming during this 11-day layoff between games?

“We’re going to reassess everything,” Eberflus said. “Everything from scheme to players to everything.”

Whitehair is required to miss a minimum two more games on injured reserve while he recovers from a left knee injury. But the player who could see an opportunity stepping in on the offensive line is Alex Leatherwood, the Raiders’ 2021 first-round pick whom the Bears claimed off waivers in September.

Leatherwood was designated for a return from the non-football illness list on Wednesday and is being ramped up for an opportunity ahead. Perhaps the Bears could turn to him on the offensive line once he’s cleared.

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