(670 The Score) Exactly 28 games into the Matt Eberflus era, the Bears only do one thing consistently.
They find ways to lose.
Any football team with that identity this far into a head coach’s second season makes it fair to wonder if he should return for a third.
That likely will be the most immediate result of the Bears' stunning 31-26 loss to the Lions on Sunday at Ford Field, with speculation in Chicago shifting from Justin Fields’ future to Eberflus’.
That’s just the way it works in fed-up, frustrated NFL cities when a team like the Bears blows it and once again snatches defeat from the jaws of victory. This was an inexcusable outcome, unacceptable for a franchise that struggles to understand accountability, a redundant meltdown in Motown that underscored just how much losing has become a habit at Halas Hall.
This was worse than the Bears blowing a 28-7 second-half lead at home to the Broncos on Oct. 1, a low-water mark many of us mistakenly labeled rock bottom for a team apparently determined to plumb new depths. This was a redundant, repulsive, regrettable exercise in futility and just a terrible, awful, offensive football surrender.
This was so, so Bears.
So tell me again what this organization does well? I’m waiting. We’re all waiting, George McCaskey. We all want to know when and how a franchise that hasn’t celebrated a playoff victory in almost 13 years is going to stop coming up with new patents for losing games.
The Bears won the turnover battle 4-1, possessed the football for 40 minutes and 24 seconds, led by 12 points with just more than three minutes to go and still lost. Think how hard that is to do.
I'll tell you. Their futility actually was historic: Since 1932, none of the 48 NFL teams that had a plus-three turnover margin while possessing the ball for at least 40 minutes had lost, according to longtime Bears Radio statistical guru Doug Colletti.
The Lions suffered the letdown many expected after an emotional walk-off victory over the Chargers one week earlier in Los Angeles, and the Bears let them get away with it. The Bears could hold seminars on Playing Not To Lose and never run out of Power Point presentations. Two questionable coaching judgments, in particular, contributed to the latest lament.
The first example came after the Bears took a 26-14 lead after a 14-play, 70-yard drive that ate 8 minutes, 45 seconds off the clock. At that point, a Bears defense that had created four turnovers and forced Lions quarterback Jared Goff to resemble the erratic player the Rams unloaded lost its edge. The blitzes became harder to spot. The cushions for receivers looked a little softer. The approaches on running backs appeared more tentative.
The awareness that every great defense possesses went awry.
Naturally, on first-and-10 on the Bears’ 32-yard line with 3:06 left, Lions receiver Jameson Williams ran a simple corner route between veteran safety Eddie Jackson and cornerback Jaylon Johnson. In the safe Cover-2 defense Eberflus believes in as much as his beloved HITS principle, Jackson and Johnson picked the worst time to have a communication breakdown. Either Jackson needed to come off the hash mark quicker or Johnson needed to drop deeper. That’s the way that zone concept works. Neither happened. Goff deposited the ball between the two defenders and Williams celebrated a 32-yard touchdown pass that reignited the home crowd.
“We just have to do a better job of playing high-low on that," Eberflus said.
The cautiousness continued when the Bears regained the ball at their own 25-yard line after the kickoff. On first and second down, instead of keeping the ball in the hands of Fields to let him create the way he had done all afternoon, offensive coordinator Luke Getsy called two straight handoffs to Khalil Herbert that went nowhere. Worse, both plays only ate eight seconds off the clock as the Lions used a pair of timeouts. Then on third-and-9, the Bears regained their nerve and let Fields look deep.
Rookie receiver Tyler Scott ran himself open but unusually slowed up just as the ball was arriving and failed to catch up to the pass. There might be a day that Scott makes that catch. Alas, Sunday wasn’t that day.
“I think he misjudged the ball," Fields said. “If that thing connects, that seals the deal in my opinion."
Added Eberflus: “It was a good call. Just got to execute.’’
Eberflus also was asked postgame about the safe – scared? – choice to kick a field goal on fourth-and-1 at the Lions' 23-yard line early in the fourth quarter with the Bears leading 20-14. It was impossible not to contrast Eberflus’ conservative approach on fourth down at such a key point with his counterpart, Lions coach Dan Campbell, who views similar fourth downs as invitations to be outrageous. Eberflus opted for an easy Cairo Santos 40-yard field goal to go up 23-14, but imagine had the Bears asked Fields to get a yard and later scored a touchdown.
You can’t let up to beat good teams. And the Lions are a very, very good team – now 8-2 for the first time since 1962.
They followed up the Williams touchdown – after the Bears’ untimely and timid three-and-out – with an efficient 11-play, 73-yard scoring drive punctuated by former Bears running back David Montgomery crossing the goal line and celebrating with a spike that emphasized he had chosen the right team in free agency.
The Bears got the ball back with 29 seconds left, but any hopes for a Motor City miracle ended when Lions star pass rusher Aidan Hutchinson overpowered right tackle Darnell Wright, stripping Fields and chasing the ball out of the end zone for a safety. As Hutchinson punted the ball into the stands while celebrating, Bears were kicking themselves for letting another winnable game get away.
“We didn’t finish," Eberflus said.
It stung even more because of the way the Bears started.
If Fields indeed approached Sunday believing he had seven games to make his case as the Bears’ franchise quarterback, his opening statement got everyone’s attention.
The game’s opening drive offered as much excitement as regret for the Bears. Fields played freely, turning designed runs into decent gains and tucking and running when the pocket collapsed. The more Fields runs, the more his confidence grows in the passing game. That’s impossible to prove but easy to see, the swagger Fields carries himself with when he’s hurting defenses with his legs. That’s the exciting part of what Fields showed immediately after a month layoff. As for the regret, the fluid way Fields ran the offense with such freedom made it fair to wonder why it has taken so long this season for play-caller Getsy to grasp the obvious.
The Bears started the season trying to develop a quarterback. What we saw Sunday was the Bears using Fields to try and win a football game. The difference is subtle but significant. The result is obvious on plays like the 29-yard burst that Fields celebrated with a dance – his longest run of 2023. The way Fields runs the ball is what makes him special, so why would any coach stifle that? Letting Fields be Fields produced 104 rushing yards on 18 carries, a heavy load but a necessary one until defenses force the Bears to adjust.
Cautious critics will counter that Fields running more exposes him to injury and carries too many risks. But in reality, the bigger risk is Fields never reaching his potential if Getsy and the Bears refuse to play to his strengths. It is a football conundrum. Conventional wisdom casts doubt whether a running quarterback like Fields can lead the Bears to a championship in today’s game, but 32 games as an NFL starter suggests that’s the surest way for him to find success.
Whether that’s in Chicago or another NFL city – following the career path that Goff took – still remains to be seen.
Speaking of Goff, he threw three bad interceptions – and would’ve had four had Jaylon Johnson not let a sure pick-six slip through his hands on a Lions’ scoring drive. The picks came courtesy of rookie cornerback Tyrique Stevenson, who made a nice play with his hands to hang onto an errant Goff throw, and veteran linebackers T.J. Edwards and Tremaine Edmunds. Stevenson added a forced fumble on a kickoff return on his best day in the NFL. Montez Sweat registered his first sack in three games as a Bear. Jack Sanborn blitzed and recorded his third career sack. Rookie defensive tackle Gervon Dexter tipped one of Goff’s passes, which resulted in Edmunds’ interception.
Unfortunately, the defining defensive play of the day for the Bears was giving up a 32-yard touchdown pass with 2:59 left that really made all other progress seem moot.
Fields, for one, deserved better.
For the majority of Sunday against a playoff-bound team, Fields was the best player on the field. That all becomes part of the evidence the Bears will examine before making a decision about the future – but it’s not a decision that has to be made after Fields’ first game back in action.
“I felt like it was the first game of the season out there," Fields said. “My body felt good."
Fields played for the first time in 35 days due to a dislocated thumb but still looked sharp on intermediate passes. He completed 16 of 23 for 169 yards and had a 105.2 passer rating. Perhaps because of the thumb or the layoff – possibly both – Fields lacked accuracy early on when he took bigger shots downfield. He missed D.J. Moore in the first half when Moore had a step on the Lions defense in the end zone. He later overthrew Darnell Mooney, who had created separation deep along the home sideline.
But late in the third quarter, down 14-13, Fields found his touch. With pressure closing in, Fields climbed the pocket and kept his eyes downfield. He saw Moore split the defense and delivered a 39-yard beauty for the go-ahead touchdown. It was Moore’s first touchdown reception since his three-score game against the Commanders, and nobody missed Fields more than Moore. When 1 + 2 = 6 for the Bears, as the T-shirts say, it's a winning equation.
If only everything else added up for the Bears.
“It hurts a lot, but we’ve got to take the positives out of it and learn from the loss," Fields said.
Will the Bears ever realize they can learn from victories too?