CHICAGO (670 The Score) -- The Bears blew a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter of a 31-30 loss to the Lions on Sunday at Soldier Field, where second-year quarterback Justin Fields continued his ascent as his team largely struggled around him.
It marked the Bears’ sixth loss in their last seven games. Chicago now sits at 3-7 despite holding a lead in nine of its 10 games this season. Here are the observations from the Bears’ loss to the Lions.
Winning would serve a purpose
There’s nobody more important to the Bears’ future than the 23-year-old Fields, who once again struggled Sunday to comprehend another gut-wrenching loss.
Fields had another performance filled with promise and several spectacular moments, but the Bears don’t have the collective talent around him to succeed this season. The burden of losing weighs on Fields and the building blocks of this young team. The Bears are trying to build a winning culture, and losing hinders that.
Fans shouldn't be rooting for Fields and the Bears to lose this season, even as each setback puts Chicago in a better position in the 2023 NFL Draft. At 3-7 and with a defense that's among the NFL's worst, the Bears are almost certain to land a top-10 draft pick, and a top-five selection is in play as well.
Bears general manager Ryan Poles will have the draft opportunities he has desired in rebuilding the team, whether that’s by using a premier selection to add talent around Fields or by taking advantage of a quarterback-needy team to trade down and acquire extra picks. Between draft capital and more than $125 million in salary cap space to use next spring, Poles has the tools to improve the roster and make long-term investments.
What’s important now for Fields and the Bears is to learn from and capitalize on the opportunities in front of them. They had one late in the game Sunday, when the Bears couldn't generate a go-ahead score after they got the football back with 2:21 remaining while trailing 31-30.
Fields needs more of those chances in the final seven games of the season, as he'd benefit from leading his team to a comeback victory like franchise quarterbacks do. And as a young group, the Bears could use a breakthrough win or two as they set their foundation.
The players and coaches spend long hours inside Halas Hall each week preparing their minds and bodies for each game. Winning sets the tone for improvement. Losing can become the catalyst for a poor culture.
“Keep the morale high,” Bears receiver Chase Claypool said. “Bad energy in the locker room will translate to the field.”
Fields is the Bears' potential cornerstone, and he has been dejected after each of their losses. The effect of losing extends beyond the standings and draft positioning. Fans shouldn’t root against their favorite team because it could perhaps pay off with the fourth overall pick instead of the seventh pick.
For the Bears to build a winning culture, they need to see the fruits of their labors and celebrate a much-needed triumph.
In short, they need to experience how to win.
Fields' continued evolution as a dual threat has created opportunities for one player in particular: third-year tight end Cole Kmet.
Kmet has five touchdowns in his last three games after going without a score since his rookie season of 2020. On Sunday, Kmet caught two touchdown passes from Fields on play designs that took advantage of Fields' running threat to create openings in the passing game.
Kmet’s six-yard touchdown reception in the middle of the third quarter came as Fields moved to his right. The Lions had two linebackers shift over with their focus on Fields, and rookie safety Kerby Joseph lost his footing as he was caught in between Fields and Kmet. It was a layup in the end zone.
Bears offensive coordinator Luke Getsy has done an excellent job creating opportunities in short-yardage and red-zone plays that scheme to Fields' strengths. Since the Bears' 12-7 loss to the Commanders on Oct. 13 – one in which Chicago was 0-for-3 in goal-to-go situations – Getsy has altered that element of the offense to take advantage of Fields’ mobility. Kmet has often been the beneficiary in the red zone, but he also was part of a big play Sunday.
Later in the third quarter, Fields rolled to his left and once again seemed to be targeting the rookie Joseph with a rushing fake. Joseph was the last line of defense in coverage on Kmet, who was left all alone. Fields hit him for a 50-yard touchdown.
The Bears seem to have carved out the right role for the 23-year-old Kmet, who's a strong blocker in the Y tight end role and now a threat in short-yardage situations.
Sanborn steps up
For every prized draft pick who steps in and fills a void in a team's rebuild, there are also a few surprises who emerge. Perhaps the Bears have one of those in 23-year-old undrafted rookie linebacker Jack Sanborn, who had a game-best 12 tackles and two sacks Sunday. Sanborn also had an interception that was negated by a penalty, and he showcased instincts and poise as the Bears' starting middle linebacker for the second straight game.
The Lake Zurich native Sanborn has taken advantage of his opportunity since the Bears dealt star linebacker Roquan Smith to the Ravens on Oct. 31, a day before the trade deadline.
About the officiating...
Bears safety Eddie Jackson was frustrated by the officiating in the loss, namely cornerback Jaylon Johnson getting flagged for an illegal-hands-to-the-face penalty that negated Sanborn’s pick in the fourth quarter.
But games are won or lost by the countless plays made or missed by the players, not one or two questionable calls by an officiating crew. Even Jackson seemed to acknowledge that – the source of his frustration was how the Bears couldn’t overcome the calls that went against them.
Good teams rise above a bad call. The Bears aren’t a good team yet.
-- Running back Khalil Herbert's health will be a storyline to watch this week. He suffered a hip injury on the final kickoff return Sunday and missed the Bears' last offensive series. The Bears ruled Herbert out immediately, and he was limping through the locker room after the game. Chicago’s offense has been built on a well-balanced rushing attack, and Herbert is a big piece of that. He'd be a major loss.
-- Veteran Riley Reiff started at right tackle for a second straight game with Larry Borom active. The Bears seem to have benched Borom in favor of Reiff's stability.
-- In his second game with the Bears after being acquired in exchange for a second-round pick, Claypool had one reception for eight yards on just two targets and 19 offensive snaps. How did they let that happen? More snaps and opportunities for Claypool, please.
-- Johnson played one of his worst games in the NFL. He has been battling an oblique injury and struggled to stay on the field. It doesn't appear that he's close to full health, and perhaps an absence is needed to get him back to full strength.
-- Fields vowed that he won't ever again make the same poor decision that led to his game-changing pick-six in the fourth quarter.
“I can assure you that will never happen again for the rest of my career," he said.
-- The Bears have set an NFL record by rushing for 225 yards or more in five straight games, according to league research.
-- Lions rookie pass rusher Aidan Hutchinson is going to be one hell of a player.
-- Maybe the Dan Campbell experiment can actually work out?
-- Seriously, life’s too short to root against your favorite football team.
Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.