This should have been a story about progress, about purpose, about a feisty NFL underdog that went on the road Sunday and gave it to the best team in their division in just about every way imaginable.
Forced four turnovers. Controlled the ball for more than 40 minutes. Sunk its claws into a golden opportunity and appeared ready to make a statement with a signature victory.
That’s how good the Chicago Bears were for 2 hours and 38 minutes Sunday afternoon, playing together, playing free, pummeling the Detroit Lions with aggressiveness and timely playmaking.
Man, what a story this could have been.
Should have been.
Instead? This, unfortunately, has become another story about disappointment and disbelief, the kind that shows up in a stunned locker room after a team’s most impressive performance of the season topples like a child’s Jenga tower.
This is the latest dispiriting chapter in a thick saga of woe for the Chicago Bears, who left Ford Field on Sunday as improbable 31-26 losers after being outscored 17-0 in the final 4 minutes and 15 seconds.
So much for ending an 11-game NFC North losing skid. Instead, that streak ticked up to 12.
“If I’m keeping it real with all of you, we should’ve won that game,” quarterback Justin Fields said. “It just comes down to finishing and executing at the end of the game.”
Fields was brilliant Sunday, rushing for 104 yards and throwing for 169 more with a 39-yard touchdown strike to DJ Moore in the third quarter. Like so many things Bears, it was encouraging but it wasn’t enough.
Instead of celebrating a triumphant return after a month away from game action, Fields left Detroit with a pit in his stomach.
“It hurts,” he said. “It hurts a lot.”
Rookie cornerback Tyrique Stevenson shook his head with his own dejection, still unable to fathom how the Bears came apart when it mattered most with the defense allowing touchdown drives of 75 and 73 yards to blow a 12-point lead down the stretch.
“It’s unexplainable,” Stevenson said. “It’s really unexplainable at the end of the day.”
Stevenson delivered Sunday, intercepting a Jared Goff pass in the first quarter for the first of four Bears takeaways. The rookie cornerback later forced a fumble on a Lions kickoff return, which the Bears recovered and turned into a 39-yard touchdown march.
Instead of celebrating a breakthrough, though, Stevenson left Detroit with his brain spinning.
“It’s an unexplainable feeling to be honest,” he said. “I can’t even put words to it.”
So much for the Bears winning consecutive games for the first time since late in the 2021 season. Instead, here they are again, forced to reboot and come to terms with another breakdown.
“Obviously the disappointment is our finish,” coach Matt Eberflus said. “We didn’t finish as a football team, didn’t finish the right way as coaches and as players.”
This should have been a story about jubilation, not disappointment.
With 6:30 remaining, the Bears had a two-score lead, the ball and a new set of downs after Fields converted third-and-14 with an explosive 29-yard scramble. After Fields slid down at the Lions 31 yard line in front of his own bench, he popped to his feet and uncorked a series of dance moves.
“I was just feeling it,” he said.
Understandable, too, given that the Bears were positioned to add to their 23-14 lead with the clock ticking away. But that possession stalled shortly after with Cairo Santos’ fourth field goal — from 39 yards — providing a comfortable 12-point advantage with less than 5 minutes remaining.
All that was left was a ceremonial door-closing against a flustered Detroit offense which, to that point, had thrown more interceptions (three) than it had scoring drives (two).
Instead? The Bears unraveled. In epic fashion.
Maybe they exhaled prematurely. Maybe the defense lost focus just enough to keep the door open for the Lions. But the collapse began with Detroit needing only 1:16 to march 75 yards for a score that put them right back in the game. That touchdown came on a way-too-easy deep shot from Goff to Jameson Williams. That pass covered 32 yards with Williams slipping behind Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson and breaking to the corner of the end zone as safety Eddie Jackson gave chase.
“We’ve got to do a better job staying back,” Eberflus said. “We always have to play high-to-low in that situation.”
Johnson, whose rough afternoon included a 34-yard pass interference penalty and a pair of near interceptions, struggled to accept his dejection.
“We didn’t execute the way we needed to,” Johnson said. “It’s pretty frustrating. I mean, I feel like, honestly, the whole game we whooped their ass. And then they came through when it mattered.”
The Bears still led 26-21 with less than 3 minutes remaining. And if the offense could have responded and met their next moment, they could have sealed the game.
Instead? A three-and-out series included a run up the middle to Khalil Herbert for no gain, a read-option give from Fields to Herbert — again for no gain — and a barely-missed dagger deep ball to rookie Tyler Scott.
Fields explained his decision to give the second down handoff to Herbert with the Lions showing a five-man front and linebacker Derrick Barnes staying home on the edge while zeroing in on the quarterback. “That was a good read for sure,” Fields said.
The Bears also felt like the shot play to Scott was there with Lions safety Tracy Walker charging down to take away DJ Moore on a crossing route as Scott gained separation from cornerback Cam Sutton deep.
That could have been an upset-sealing completion. Instead, Scott decelerated for a fraction of a second and couldn’t snare a well-thrown deep ball.
Fields immediately put both hands on his helmet in disbelief.
“If that thing connects,” Fields said, “I think that seals the deal.”
Added Scott: “I had a clean release. It felt like a great muscle memory type of route. And I ran thinking of all my coaching points. Looking up and not back at the ball. (That way it’s) easier to track.
“Justin threw a great ball. A great ball. Looking up at it, I just kind of misjudged it a little bit. It’s something to learn from.”
Instead, the Bears punted, then surrendered a game-losing 11-play, 73-yard touchdown drive that included only one Lions third down.
Instead. Instead. Instead.
“It’s about playing four quarters, man, and playing through the last couple seconds,” said Bears linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, who had a third-quarter interception of Goff. “We have to do a better job of finishing.”
Naturally, the Lions’ go-ahead touchdown in the final minute came from former Bear David Montgomery, an emotional 1-yard run with 29 seconds to play that almost blew the roof off Ford Field.
“It was either I score or I don’t,” Montgomery said. “And I know who I am.”
Goff finished the afternoon 23-for-35 passing for 236 yards and two touchdowns. A dozen of those completions and 117 passing yards came during the Lions’ final drives of each half, both producing touchdowns.
“We found a way to make it work there at the end,” Goff said. “It’s a sign of a good team. We’re a resilient group. We’re tough. We had a lot of courage and we don’t back down from anything.”
Those feel-good vibes were everywhere for the fearless first-place Lions, who improved to 8-2 in pursuit of their first-ever NFC North championship. Right now, they feel like a team with the magic sauce to make noise through the rest of the regular season and well into the winter.
Must be fun.
Not far away, in a dazed Bears locker room, players and coaches tried to process their fate, tried to grasp for better feelings.
“We can see it and everybody else can see it. We’re a team on the rise,” Stevenson said. “We’re starting to understand who we are and figuring out what we can do in this league.”
That’s what this story should have been about.
Instead. Instead. Instead.
Instead, the Bears fell to 3-8 overall and 2-11 in one-score games under Eberflus’ guidance over the last two seasons.
After an afternoon with so much promise, so much production, so much apparent progress, the Bears again flew home with that ugly and familiar feeling of failure.
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