At the end of an ugly performance on a gloomy New Jersey afternoon, the Chicago Bears found themselves pulling together for one last eyes-closed, fingers-crossed, full-prayers miracle.
Only 8 seconds remained Sunday and the Bears were 67 yards from MetLife Stadium’s north end zone, the landmark for a potential last-gasp touchdown that could have maybe, possibly, by chance set up a game-tying 2-point conversion attempt. A whole ton of wildness had to happen to extend the game. But the Bears gave it a shot anyway on their final snap against the New York Giants.
“You’ve just got to hope for the best,” quarterback Justin Fields said, “and keep the ball alive.”
From their 33-yard line, away we went …
- Fields threw a 3-yard pass to Trestan Ebner, who immediately lateraled to Equanimeous St. Brown.
- St. Brown ran to the Bears 45 and, an instant before being hit by Adoree’ Jackson, threw a fastball across the field that bounced once, caromed off linebacker Micah McFadden’s thigh and somehow skittered back to Fields at the 40.
- Fields ran forward for 9 yards, then bombed a backward pass to St. Brown, who again burst ahead before throwing a wild pitch back to Ebner, who …
You know what? Let’s just summarize things here. During a madcap 43-second sequence, five Bears players touched the football, including offensive linemen Lucas Patrick and Teven Jenkins; Fields and Ebner each had it three times; and the chaos ultimately ended 5 yards behind the line of scrimmage when Giants safety Dane Belton dived on one last wild pitch.
Finally. Mercifully. The end.
That’s how Sunday’s “False Hope Bowl” ended with the depleted Giants surviving for a 20-12 victory that moved them to 3-1. For the Bears, that final play served as an appropriate snapshot of the entire afternoon, starting with the desperation continuing with all that helter-skelter action and culminating, of course, with a fate-sealing turnover.
The game was lost well before, with the Bears coming apart in all three phases during their second defeat of the season.
The defense was far too flimsy, allowing 262 rushing yards, including 49 yards and two touchdowns by Giants quarterback Daniel Jones in the first half.
The passing offense was again erratic, finishing with a season-high but still troubling 155 yards. The Bears were 0-for-3 scoring touchdowns inside the red zone and converted only 5 of 15 third-down attempts.
And the special teams? Well, fill-in kicker Michael Badgley was almost the day’s hero, scoring all 12 Bears points as he made the most of his emergency opportunity to spell Cairo Santos for a weekend.
But late in the game, with the Bears seeking a chance to mount a game-tying touchdown drive, rookie Velus Jones muffed the second punt return opportunity of his career, taking the wind out of the Bears’ sails.
It was the wind, Jones said, that crossed him up on Jamie Gillan’s punt, sending him swerving toward the sideline in front of the Giants bench, where he simply dropped the football at the Bears 34.
“The wind was carrying the ball a lot, especially in that direction,” Jones said. “You just have to beat the ball to the spot. I felt like I didn’t do that. I was still moving with it instead of beating the ball to the spot.
“It’s really frustrating. I’m definitely going to let this one sit and hurt.”
Matt Eberflus tried to balance his duties as both a supportive and empathetic coach and a demanding boss: “No one feels as bad as Velus does. We understand that. We’re going to rally our team around him.”
But a few moments later, Eberflus added: “It comes down to being under the football, squeezing your elbows and then high tucking it.”
Throughout his postgame news conference, Eberflus emphasized he would have to review tape of Sunday’s game to offer a more comprehensive analysis of how the Bears played. But that video viewing is almost certain to leave him with an upset stomach.
First and foremost, the Bears’ first turnover — a Fields fumble with the Bears in scoring range in the second quarter — was a flagrant violation of Eberflus’ H.I.T.S. principle.
Fields was eyeing St. Brown on a crossing route when Giants outside linebacker Azeez Ojulari beat left tackle Braxton Jones around the edge and hit the Bears quarterback.
“That was going to be a big play if we held up a little bit longer,” Fields said.
Instead, the ball came flying out, fluttered to the ground near the line of scrimmage and neither left guard Cody Whitehair nor St. Brown put enough effort into chasing it, allowing Giants rookie Kayvon Thibodeaux to pounce on it for a takeaway.
“I saw it was a fumble,” Eberflus said, “and I don’t know exactly what happened. I’ll have to go back and look at it.”
Added Fields: “It’s just a lesson for the O-line. If you don’t hear a whistle blow, you don’t know if it’s incomplete.”
The Giants converted that turnover into a 75-yard touchdown drive.
That’s not the kind of concentration lapse or effort deficiency Eberflus will tolerate. He’ll have to make that clear in the coming days. Just as he’ll have to continue seeking ways to improve Fields’ production as the second-year quarterback searches for his first groove of the 2022 season.
Fields completed 11 of 22 passes Sunday for 174 yards and was sacked six times. He also gave the outside world another sound bite to parse when he took exception to a question about how he assessed the league’s 32nd-ranked passing attack.
Why, Fields was asked, isn’t the passing game working?
“Who said the passing game wasn’t working?” he said. “Numbers don’t matter in my opinion. As long as we win, like I’ve said, that’s all I care about.”
The Bears didn’t win Sunday, though. And they won’t win often with the passing-game struggles that have persisted through a month’s worth of games.
Not a single objective NFL analyst would argue that the Bears passing game is working. Fields has gone 36 possessions since throwing his last touchdown pass. And it says everything that the Bears seemed so eager Sunday to celebrate their longest play of the season — a beautiful 56-yard deep ball from Fields to Darnell Mooney on the game’s second series.
“We got Mooney going today,” Eberflus said. “Which is really good to see.”
Without question, it was a crisp route by Mooney and a picture-perfect pass. But those big-play moments need to be coming more than a couple of times each month.
Furthermore, that completion led only to a field goal. And the idea that a four-catch, 94-yard outing for Mooney — while a step forward — was somehow landmark shows how much grasping the Bears have been forced into doing.
For full context, Sunday’s loss came against a middle-of-the-road opponent that was riddled with injuries. The Giants entered without a handful of key players — Leonard Williams, Sterling Shepard, Wan’Dale Robinson and Kadarius Tooney — who were dealing with various ailments.
And during Sunday’s action, they lost Ojulari (calf), Thibodeaux (back), safety Julian Love (concussion), right tackle Evan Neal (neck), receiver Kenny Golladay (knee), cornerback Aaron Robinson (knee) and defensive lineman Henry Mondeaux (ankle).
Jones had to miss 12 offensive snaps after spraining his left ankle, then had to play the Giants’ final 11 plays with one bum wheel after backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor was taken to be evaluated for a concussion.
Still, short-handed and not even playing all that well, the Giants coasted to a relieving home victory. That should offer Bears fans a reminder of how shaky and patience-testing this season figures to be.
The turbulence isn’t likely to lessen anytime soon.