DETROIT — The play call pumped up the Chicago Bears’ huddle. After two short runs, the Bears were going to attack on third-and-9 from their 26-yard line in the fourth quarter. They were going for the kill in the final three minutes.
The players loved it.
“It’s time,” rookie receiver Tyler Scott said.
Quarterback Justin Fields’ first read on the play was receiver DJ Moore. If Detroit Lions safety Tracy Walker crashed on Moore’s crossing route, Fields would then look to Scott to his left and go deep.
And that’s what happened.
“Robber coverage,” Fields said.
That left Scott in single coverage against cornerback Cam Sutton.
“He had him beat,” Fields said.
So he took his shot. He had to because he had it. But Fields missed. After the game, Scott said he misjudged the ball. He slowed down briefly when should have kept running. It’s a play the Bears have practiced plenty. But Scott had to dive to come close to catching it.
Instead of the play being a highlight in a Bears victory, it will go down as a miss to bemoan in a 31-26 loss to the Lions at Ford Field on Sunday.
“If that thing connects,” Fields said, “I think that seals the deal.”
Fields didn’t blow the Bears’ 26-14 lead in the fourth quarter. That’s on Bears coach Matt Eberflus and his defense. Fields wasn’t perfect. But he played well enough to win his first game back from a dislocated right thumb.
“He just had that, ‘I’m here, I’m back’ mentality,” Scott said. “You could see it. Just his confidence running the ball, throwing the ball. He just stepped in like he never left.”
Fields finished 16-for-23 for 169 yards and one touchdown for a 105.2 passer rating. He also had 18 carries for 104 yards. Fields lost the ball on a sack by defensive end Aidan Hutchinson in the final 30 seconds. It turned into a safety for the final margin.
The Lions, though, did their damage before that against the Bears defense, scoring two touchdowns in the final two minutes and 35 seconds. Former Bears running back David Montgomery scored the winning touchdown.
On a micro level, Fields’ play was encouraging. It was his first game back since dislocating his throwing thumb in Week 6 against the Minnesota Vikings. His right index finger also required a liquid bandage after it was cut in the second quarter against the Lions. Neither seemed to affect him, though.
“Shoot,” Fields said. “I felt like it was the first game of the season out there.”
But then there’s the macro story — the most important storyline left this season for the Bears as an organization.
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Sunday was the start of Fields’ audition to be the Bears’ starter in 2024 and potentially beyond. It was a good start, too. The opponent matters in the evaluation. Fields and the Bears nearly beat the NFC North-leading Lions. They’re one of the best teams in the NFC. Detroit entered the game with the league’s second-best run defense and a top-10 offense in running, passing and scoring.
Close doesn’t count in the NFL. But for the rebuilding Bears, it’s still better than getting your butts kicked on the road.
The Bears seemed to sense that, too.
Fields’ return provided a boost. That’s the story right now.
Or that’s Chapter 1. There are six more to go.
“He did good,” Moore said of Fields. “Managed everything well, commanded the huddle well and he put us in the best possible position to win, so that’s what you want out of our starting quarterback.”
You want big plays, too — and Fields produced them. Fields connected with Moore on a 39-yard touchdown pass late in the third quarter. It gave the Bears a 20-14 lead. He stepped up and through a collapsing pocket, kept his eyes down the field and hit Moore on a deep post in the end zone.
The 1-2 punch is BACK
— Chicago Bears (@ChicagoBears) November 19, 2023
“We tried it earlier in the game,” Moore said, smiling. “He just let that first one rip. I was like, ‘Uh, I’m fast, but I don’t know. … Let’s take some off of that.’ And then we connected again on the same type of play.”
Fields’ legs moved the chains all game. The Bears dominated time of possession (40:24 to 19:36). Fourteen of 18 runs came on designed runs or the read option.
“I don’t think they expected him to run like he did,” Moore said. “But he did.”
Fields’ longest run was a 29-yard scramble down the left sideline on third-and-15 from the Bears’ 40. He danced after it.
“I was just feeling it,” Fields said.
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But how are the Bears feeling about him? It’s a question worth asking after every remaining game this season.
If we’re nitpicking, the Bears settled for too many field goals in the second half against the Lions. The Bears offense also didn’t score points after cornerback Tyrique Stevenson’s interception or linebacker T.J. Edwards’ pick on Lions quarterback Jared Goff in the first half.
But the Bears still had a 12-point advantage with 4:15 remaining. The Bears didn’t just look close; they had the Lions on the ropes.
The win was there.
“If I’m keeping it real with y’all,” Fields said, “we should have won that game.”
But the Bears didn’t. If Fields hits Scott, this is a different story. Or look at it this way: the Bears trusted Fields to make that throw in that moment. If the Bears continue to play like they did on Sunday, there will be more like that for him in the future.
The Bears, of course, are eager to see how he does in them.
“We know who we are, we know what kind of team we are, and we’ve just got to be better,” Fields said. “We’ve just got to finish. And like I said, when those big moments happen, when we need those big plays, we’ve got to execute.”
(Photo: Rey Del Rio / Getty Images)
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