Instead, Chicago saw the 1.9% chance of those hypotheticals come into play. Despite separating themselves by as large of a margin as 28-7, the Bears were unable to get the job done and lost 31-28 to fall to 0-4 on the 2023 regular season.
What started off as the spark the team so desperately needed ended up in similarly depressing fashion to their previous three games. Here are some of the key takeaways from the Bears’ loss to Denver.
Justin Fields played arguably the best game he’s had as a passer in the NFL on Sunday, and it still wasn’t enough for the Bears to win.
The numbers are incredible: 28-for-35 with 335 passing yards — a career-high — 4 passing touchdowns and an interception. The Bears trusted Fields quite a bit through the air early on, and he was able to torch the same Broncos defense that had allowed 70 points to the Dolphins the week before.
Weak competition aside, this was the performance Fields needed. He looked confident, accurate, poised and decisive throwing the ball. He was able to make good full-field reads and deliver well-placed strikes on a consistent basis. The interception to seal the deal for Denver was a big mistake that he certainly deserves part of the blame for, but the Bears certainly didn’t lose because of Fields. If anything, he was a big reason they had a lead to begin with.
The Bears trusted Khalil Herbert quite a bit on the ground, and he delivered in the form of 103 yards on 18 carries: a strong 5.7 yards per carry. He and Roschon Johnson were the only Bears running backs to run the ball on Sunday, and Herbert was surely the more efficient of the two this week. Chicago did a good job of mixing up their run looks with WR touches for Tyler Scott and Velus Jones Jr., too.
The two biggest beneficiaries of Fields’ big day through the air were DJ Moore and Cole Kmet. Moore finished with 8 catches for 131 yards and a touchdown, putting him up to 19 catches for 304 yards and two touchdowns through the first four games of the season. Kmet caught 7 passes for 85 yards and two touchdowns, serving as a reliable checkdown option in the red zone for Fields to identify near the middle of the field.
Chicago’s offense was far from the reason they lost on Sunday, but the play-calling did become a bit conservative as the game went on. In offensive Drives 7-9 — which all took place either entirely or partially in the fourth quarter — the Bears had a 7:13 pass-to-run ratio, despite all of their successes through the air. Even though running the ball is a safer way to run down the clock, the Bears missed on a chance to bury the Broncos completely with even one more aggressive offensive drive.
In particular, Luke Getsy’s decision to call for the Bears to run the ball 7 times in a row in the fourth quarter was a questionable one. There was no killer instinct to stick the dagger in Denver’s heart, and after Fields gave up a fumble after being blasted by an unblocked Nik Bonitto off the edge, the passing game was essentially abandoned. The decision to run it up the middle on 4th-and-1 for an unsuccessful conversion ended up hurting the Bears, as they passed on a makable field goal and ended up giving the ball to Denver to end up doing just that.
The Bears took the foot off the gas on offense in the fourth quarter, but the initial start was tremendous. They got Fields on the move out of the pocket, cutting his field reads in half and utilizing his athletic ability well. The only problem was that Chicago just simply forgot how to win.
Chicago was down three key members of their secondary on Sunday, and it showed.
That’s not to place unrealistic expectations on fifth-round rookie Terell Smith and backup cornerback Greg Stroman, who saw considerable playing time with Jaylon Johnson and Kyler Gordon both out and each had pass deflections. That said, the Bears still allowed three passing touchdowns and a 75% completion percentage to Russell Wilson. The soft zone coverage showed up against at Soldier Field, and the veteran QB was able to take advantage more often than not.
The Bears’ pass rush seemed to do a little better than they did in the previous four games, but that’s not saying much of anything. They picked up their second sack on the year with a gang sack from Dominique Robinson and Zacch Pickens and had 4 quarterback hits. Those numbers are a slight step up from previous performances but are still well below-average in the grand scheme of things. More often than not, Wilson had a pretty clean pocket to work with.
Do you know who Jaleel McLaughlin is? He’s a backup running back for the Broncos who rushed for 72 yards on 7 carries against the Bears. I didn’t know who he was until this game, but he exploded on the ground in the absence of the injured Javonte Williams. Granted, outside of a 31-yard run by McLaughlin, Chicago allowed just 3.6 yards per carry on the other 18 rushes Denver had.
As far as individual performances go, both T.J. Edwards and Tremaine Edmunds continued to clean up at the second level with 8 tackles each. The likes of Yannick Ngakoue and Rasheem Green were held out of the box score entirely, while safety Elijah Hicks struggled a bit stepping in for the injured Eddie Jackson.
Things were generally pretty good for the Bears defensively to start, as their “bend, don’t break” approach resulted in Denver punting in four of their first five offensive drives. Once the Bears got out to a big enough lead, though, the play calling became much more conservative and complacent, allowing the Broncos to pull away and take the lead back.
Three and out
3. If the Bears do end up with both the No. 1 and No. 2 picks in the 2024 NFL Draft, that first pick will go towards a quarterback.
As of this writing, Justin Fields is 5-24 as the starting quarterback for the Bears. Wins aren’t always a QB stat, but to a certain point, you have to acknowledge such a brutal record. If Chicago finishes with a bottom-2 record — depending on if they get the top pick from Carolina’s slot or their own — you simply have to move on from him. That said, the No, 2 pick seems like a prime opportunity to trade down. Quite frankly, the Bears have big needs on both their offensive and defensive lines, in addition to potentially bringing in another wide receiver. They’re not going to be able to fix everything with their two first-round picks, so why not continue to stockpile early-round picks for the future to build out a more well-rounded roster?
2. Some Bears fans have jumped to the decision to fire Ryan Poles after this season, but I wouldn’t expect this to be the case.
My expectation is Poles will receive the chance to draft his own quarterback and have more control over the Bears’ head coaching search, which he didn’t have much of as the head coaching interview process overlapped with when he was interviewing for the GM role himself. Few expected Chicago to be a legitimate playoff team in 2023, and even fewer expected they’d do much of anything in 2022. Though one can argue those low expectations haven’t even been met yet, it’s not like Poles has had enough time to truly build a strong team from the ground up.
1. Though there may be some patience with Poles, don’t expect the same for Matt Eberflus and the rest of the Bears’ coaching staff.
Eberflus hasn’t been dealt the most talented roster in the NFL in either of his two seasons as head coach, but the decisions he has made and the decisions of the staff he’s brought in have played a major role in the Bears’ lack of success. Luke Getsy has proven to often be a liability as an offensive play caller, while Alan Williams is no longer the defensive coordinator due to mysterious circumstances that have yet to be truly uncovered to the public. Between those lackluster hires, the Chase Claypool situation and just the disappointing win-loss record, the writing is on the wall for a head coaching change in 2024.