Dec 17, 2023; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Chicago Bears wide receiver Darnell Mooney (11) reaches for the ball on a Hail Mary pass against the Cleveland Browns during the fourth quarter at Cleveland Browns Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports
The Bears delivered all of our gifts to the Browns instead.
With that little bit of holiday cheer, let’s get straight to the thoughts …
I’ve seen people asking whether the Denver, Detroit or Cleveland collapse was the worst this season. Honestly, you might as well ask me to pick my least favorite Kardashian.
Like the Detroit and Denver meltdowns, I also put this game in the win column as it was still going on. You think I would have learned at this point, but it seemed like a 10-point lead over Joe Flacco in the fourth quarter should have been more than enough. It should have been and even if it wasn’t, the Bears had a total of four drives when they led by either 10 or seven points. The offense, though, went three-and-out on two of them and managed only 43 total yards on all four. When the Browns finally did tie the game, the Bears answered with another three-and-out, immediately returning the ball for the game-winning field goal. Cleveland’s defense is top tier, but it’s on Luke Getsy to ditch the conservative bent and find the handful of plays the Bears needed to put games away.
So what happens this offseason? The future of Justin Fields and Matt Eberflus may yet be decided, but it feels to me like Getsy may want to start polishing his resume. The Bears’ only touchdown drive of the day came when an Eddie Jackson interception gave the offense the ball at the Browns’ 1-yard line. And even then it took a sublime athletic effort from Fields to find Cole Kmet in the corner of the end zone on third down. Next year’s offense will have more weapons and possibly a new quarterback and I don’t think the Bears can feel comfortable running it back with Getsy no matter who’s under center.
If there is a silver lining to Sunday’s loss, it’s that there’s no chance of a late winning streak masking the holes and deficiencies that still exist on the team. Sneaking into the playoffs would have been a lot of fun, but not at the expense of an honest evaluation that could help the team for the future.
Despite its success early in the game, the defense isn’t without blame either. Flacco finished the day with 374 passing yards and 212 of them came in the fourth quarter. The 38-year-old veteran spent a lot of the day on his back thanks to Montez Sweat, but he also made a handful of explosive plays that Fields and the offense couldn’t find. Flacco did get help, though: Eberflus’ playcall to blitz on 3rd-and-15 on Cleveland’s game-winning drive while Justin Jones dropped into pass coverage on David Njoku was a mistake that Eberflus owned up to after the game.
That’s probably not the type of lasting memory that Robert Tonyan thought he’d make when he signed with his hometown team. His drop in the first quarter was the Bears’ worst since Javon Wims’ whiff in the playoff game against New Orleans and could have set the tone for an easy win in Week 15.
Tonyan’s drop was inexcusable, but I’m more forgiving of Darnell Mooney’s inability to haul in the Hail Mary at the end of the game. That’s just a chaotic and off-balance play that usually requires more luck than skill once the ball is in the air. But the block that Mooney missed on Cam Mitchell? The one that allowed Justin Fields to be tripped up short of the first down on the first play of the fourth quarter? I can get over that one about as easy as Mooney catching just two passes on eight targets.
If the loss wasn’t bad enough, the Panthers’ halved the Bears’ lead for the No. 1 pick by managing a three field-goal win. Apparently Eddy Pineiro didn’t get the memo from Lovie Smith or Mitch Trubisky.
What would you have predicted the Bears’ record to be had you known they’d be leading the league in interceptions in Week 15?
OK, let’s end this one on a positive note: As much as Sunday’s loss sucked, the Bears are still three weeks from heading into an offseason in which they currently own two of the draft’s top five picks and a projected $90 million of cap room. A number of players have shown they’re long-term building blocks and they’ve been in almost all of their 14 games. The offseason capital is going to go a long way in shoring up the margins that it takes to be a consistent winner in the NFL. It doesn’t erase Sunday’s disappointment, but it should soften it some.