DETROIT (670 The Score) — Well after the final whistle of perhaps the most heartbreaking loss the Bears have suffered across these last two turbulent seasons, the visiting locker room inside Ford Field remained devastated.
Cornerback Jaylon Johnson hung his head toward the floor, lamenting a pair of potential game-changing interceptions that slipped through his hands. Linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, so familiar with winning from his five years in Buffalo, struggled to process this collapse. Receiver Darnell Mooney still wore his white jersey and shoulder pads, with a towel draped over his head.
The Bears had a late 12-point lead but couldn't close the type of signature victory they've coveted, losing 31-26 to the Lions on Sunday in Detroit.
"If I'm being real, we should've won that game," quarterback Justin Fields said. "It just comes down to finishing and executing in the end. That's how you do it.”
Coach Matt Eberflus, who fell to 6-22 in his tenure leading the Bears, addressed his team after the game with the hope that a message of positivity would resonate. The players' overwhelming silence seemed to suggest processing this loss would be difficult.
The Bears have gone nearly two full years without winning an NFC North game, and they have yet to earn back-to-back victories under Eberflus’ watch. On Sunday, they had the first-place Lions on the ropes for more than 55 minutes, with fans even heading to the exits of Ford Field.
What followed was an inexplicable loss. They controlled the ball for 40:24 – more than two-thirds of the game – were plus-three in turnover margin and led by 12 points with under four minutes remaining and yet still lost.
“The disappointment was the finish,” Eberflus said. “We didn’t finish it as a football team, didn’t finish it as coaches, as players the right way. There were a lot of plays to be had out there and good calls to be made to get us that victory.”
As the Bears collapsed late, there were a number decisions by the coaching staff and plays on the field that haunted them. Here's a breakdown of what went wrong.
4:15 remaining in the 4th quarter, with the Bears leading 26-14
After Eberflus elected to kick a pair of field goals on the two previous offensive drives, the Bears held a 12-point lead as the Lions took possession of the ball. As the acting defensive coordinator, Eberflus shifted the Bears into a two-minute defense. That meant playing soft coverages, and Lions quarterback Jared Goff responded with quick strikes as he led a six-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to the end zone.
Goff capped the drive by connecting with receiver Jameson Williams on a 32-yard touchdown with 2:59 left as he split coverage between cornerback Jaylon Johnson and safety Eddie Jackson. Instead of continuing to keep the Bears aggressive on defense, Eberflus instead hoped to drain the clock.
The Lions' scoring drive took just 1 minute, 16 seconds and cut their deficit to 26-21. Suddenly, the Bears were starting to feel their lead dwindling away.
“They just went down the field too fast,” Eberflus said.
2:59 remaining, with the Bears leading 26-21
With the game on the line, the Bears didn't give Fields a fair chance to seal a victory.
On first-and-10 with 2:59 remaining, Fields handed to running back Khalil Herbert on an inside zone run that was stuffed at the line of scrimmage. Lions coach Dan Campbell called his first timeout. On second down, Fields operated a read-option play and handed off to Herbert rather than tuck it and run it himself. The play gained just a yard, but Fields later maintained that his choice to hand off to Herbert was the right decision based on how the Lions defense was positioned. Campbell called his second timeout.
On third-and-9, the Bears drew up a crossing route to top receive DJ Moore. Fields saw a safety crashing down in robber coverage, looking to take away Moore’s route. So Fields looked deep downfield to the left and saw rookie receiver Tyler Scott with a step and an opportunity.
Fields unleashed a good deep ball, but Scott misjudged the pass in the air. The ball fell to the turf just out of his reach.
“It’s one of those things where it’s like it’s my chance to make an impact on this game,” Scott said. “Especially during that time to put a dagger in the game. You know it hurts that you’re not able to execute in those moments like that and then it hurts even more to see that we come out with a L.”
Added Fields: “If that thing connects, I think that seals the deal.”
2:33 remaining, with Bears leading 26-21
The Bears had four takeaways Sunday, including three interceptions on Goff. But in need of one more big play, they came up empty. Detroit embarked on an 11-play, 73-yard touchdown drive to take the lead. Running back David Montgomery – who spurned the Bears in free agency back in March to sign a three-year deal with the Lions – got over the goal line on a one-yard scoring run with 29 seconds remaining.
“David is my brother, no matter where we are in life or our football careers,” Fields said. “As much as it sucks seeing him win, I’m happy for him.”
29 seconds remaining, with Lions leading 29-26
As they lined up at their own 25-yard line late, the Bears needed at least a couple chunk plays to set up kicker Cairo Santos for a potential game-tying field-goal attempt.
The Bears want to see Fields make big plays late in games and lead them to victories down the homestretch of the regular season, but he didn’t have the chance on the final drive Sunday. On first down, rookie right tackle Darnell Wright was blown backward by Lions star pass rusher Aidan Hutchinson, who strip-sacked Fields. The football was booted through the back of the end zone, resulting in a safety that sealed the Lions' win.
“Obviously, it doesn’t feel good,” Wright said.
The Bears have now lost in 22 of their 28 games in the Eberflus-Ryan Poles era. After a 3-14 season in 2022, the Bears' hope was to showcase progress with more wins in 2023.
They let a golden chance to earn one slip through their hands Sunday. Of all the losses the Bears have endured in these last two seasons, perhaps none stung quite like this.
“We know what kind of team we are,” Fields said. “We just got to be better. We just got to finish."
Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.