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More fireworks Justin Fields – and another missed opportunity. The Chicago Bears’ latest loss adds to the confusion. – News from Mercury


On the final play of the Chicago Bears’ final practice on Sunday, Justin Fields hit the peak of his five-step downfall but didn’t see anything he liked on the court. The Bears had three receivers in place plus seven-man protection to help against a Detroit Lions blitz.

The Lions still created pressure and nothing immediately caught Fields’ attention. He jumped back, then headed to the right. By then, the whole afternoon was in jamming mode.

As only Fields can, the Bears quarterback slipped past linebacker Alex Anzalone and tried to reset in the pocket. But then he had to dodge rusher Julian Okwara and escape Anzalone for the second time.

He also succeeded. Until Okwara jumped to his feet, wrapped his arms around Fields’ shoulders and, with help from defensive lineman John Cominsky, threw Fields to the grass at Soldier Field for an upset sack.


Once again, the Bears’ hopes of a game-winning and inspirational victory were gone. That 10-yard loss on the fourth and eighth points ended their last opportunity to score in a late game crunch.

The Lions, who arrived at Soldier Field 707 days after their last road win and entered the fourth quarter 14 points behind, stole a 31-30 victory. It was the Bears’ sixth loss in the last seven weeks.

“You have to be able to push through things,” coach Matt Eberflus said.

For the fifth time this season, Fields and the offense had the ball late in the fourth quarter with a chance to create a draw or win and couldn’t do it.

“We’re scoring 30 points per game,” Fields said afterwards. “So finish when we get those endgame discs.”

His displeasure was shared, not least by a group of attacking players who chafed at their collective inability to thrive with games on the line.

“That’s the biggest frustration,” receiver Darnell Mooney said. “Every game has come at the last moment we have the ball. If we can’t do things to make people respect us and fear giving the ball back to us, then what can we do?”

The Bears passed 28 points for the fourth straight game and had 408 yards. Fields again delivered a flurry of “Wow!” moments, rushing for 147 yards and two touchdowns and throwing two touchdown passes to tight end Cole Kmet.

It was hard to determine which of Fields’ splash-play touchdowns was more invigorating — his 50-yard throw to Kmet late in the third quarter or his exhilarating 67-yard run on a zone read play in the fourth.

At this point, Fields’ landmark exploits became events when not so. And for many Bears fans, that’s the juice, the only storyline that really matters.

The fields and offense have seen tremendous growth since September and are now producing on a weekly basis. But inside the locker room, that doesn’t lessen the sting that accompanied the latest missed opportunity.

Center Sam Mustipher was asked how he dealt with the mixed emotions of seeing the offense improve in its overall production while failing to add the exclamation mark with a win.

“I don’t know if I would describe that we see the good side of this,” he said. “It’s football. There are no moral victories. Where we are sitting right now is not where we want to be. Ultimately, if we need to score 45 points to win a football game, that’s what we need to do.

Tight end Ryan Griffin added, “When the game is on the line, we have to be at our best. We need to look in the mirror and see if we are doing everything we can to prepare for these times.

Sunday’s loss was a total team effort with costly mistakes in all three phases. A list of the most critical errors included but not limited to these:

  • A holding penalty against the rookie left tackle Braxton Jones derailing a productive opening drive and leading to a field goal.
  • Kicker Cairo Santos missed an extra point in the fourth quarter that ended up being the difference.
  • Rookie cornerback Kyler Gordon was hit with an unnecessary 15-yard roughing penalty for pushing Lions quarterback Jared Goff out of bounds. It helped the Lions get the first touchdown in the fourth quarter.
  • Cornerback Jaylon Johnson was called for a questionable clinch foul on receiver Trinity Benson who canceled out a fourth-quarter interception by Jack Sanborn with the Bears ahead 24-10. Lions running back D’Andre Swift scored on a 9-yard run on the next play.

On top of that, the Bears defense failed to register a takeaway for the second game in a row.

Fields’ worst mistake came with 10:38 remaining and the Bears leading 24-17. On a play at Kmet, Fields didn’t like what he saw initially, then rushed over and tried to force a lob to his tight end near the right sideline.

It was a bad pitch and a worse decision. Lions cornerback Jeff Okudah intercepted the pass and returned it 20 yards for a game-tying touchdown.

“Just a stupid game,” Fields said. “I can assure you this will never happen again. For the rest of my career.

It didn’t take long for Fields to catch up on this gaffe. Three shots to be exact. That’s when he broke away in the middle, exceeded 20 mph on a dead sprint and had enough gas to cross the goal line on the longest run of his career – the touchdown of 67 yards that electrified the home crowd.

Such magic cannot be taught. And the bears are blessed to have it. The floor for Fields and the offense have increased significantly over the past month, erasing any debate about whether Fields is a capable starting quarterback.

Yet if he is to become the championship star, many in Chicago have already crowned him because ultimately the offense must overcome the hurdle of being able to perform at a high level in the fourth quarter of tight games, especially through the air. Which means Fields needs to complement his incredible running ability with reliability as a passer.

He completed just 2 of 6 passes in the fourth quarter for 13 yards on Sunday. This is not an isolated incident either. In the loss to the Miami Dolphins a week earlier, Fields had 27 passing yards in the fourth quarter and just two completions for 4 yards in the final two possessions with the game on the line.

In the Bears’ seven losses this season, they had 19 possessions that started in the fourth quarter and managed just one touchdown and 12 points.

Fields’ fourth-quarter assists for the season: 27 for 51, 229 yards, three touchdowns, four interceptions, 12 sacks and a 51.8 passer rating.

Fields was asked what was missing late in the games that otherwise were present throughout the past month.

“Execution. Just finish,” he said. “Pretty simple. I think that’s the next step for our offense.

Mooney knows that with all the steps the offense has taken in the past two months, the next one will take hard effort and sharp focus.

“In the NFL, most games are close,” he said. “When you have the ball late, you have to be able to be dominant with our two (offensive) minutes and in the fourth quarter and at the end of these games. In practice, we dominate in this area.

The Bears can only hope the game day breakthrough comes soon. Until then, the conversation about the state of the team and the promise of the future will remain muddled.



California Daily Newspapers

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