LAKE FOREST — If and possibly when Justin Fields is cleared to play again this season, he won’t have his best friend and top playmaker to close out the remaining handful of games for the Chicago Bears.
On a first-and-10 with the Bears backed up on their own 1-yard line early in Sunday’s third quarter , Darnell Mooney lined up outside of the right numbers. Mooney went up field to block cornerback Sauce Gardner while David Montgomery worked his way through the middle of the Jets defense and eventually bounced the run outside.
Mooney, not knowing where his teammate was at, kept on blocking.
Then from behind, Mooney had a Jets player fall on his ankle. The Bears’ leading receiver laid on the ground in pain while the rain kept pouring down at MetLife Stadium. Eventually, two Bears staff members helped Mooney to the locker room.
Just like that his 2022 season officially ended. Bears coach Matt Eberflus announced on Monday that Mooney would likely need surgery and is being placed on IR.
“He is our leading receiver,” Eberflus said. “But more importantly he is a great teammate. He’s a great leader. No one puts more yards in than Darnell Mooney. I’ll promise you that. He laps people. He doubles them up. That’s what the numbers tell me. His speed in his numbers are outstanding. He works extremely hard. What I told him yesterday was just, ‘hey, just hang in there. Things happen. Still be around. We want you to be around and be in that leadership role and helping the younger players out.’ He’s a great Bear for sure.”
Despite only five games remaining in the regular season, Mooney will be greatly missed, and his absence will impact Fields the most out of anyone.
In a down year, Mooney still led the team in receptions (40), targets (61), yards (493) and receiving first downs (20). He was also someone who lined up at several spots for offensive coordinator Luke Getsy: 318 snaps in the slot and 305 snaps out wide, according to Pro Football Focus. And he played the most snaps out of any skilled player on the team (630).
Regardless of how many receivers the Bears utilize to fill the void left by Mooney, the production and quality of play won’t be the same.
With Mooney also out, Fields and his top target lose out on opportunities to develop chemistry and overall familiarity in Getsy’s offense. Take for example the deep ball that was missed at the end of the first quarter against the Atlanta Falcons. The soonest those two can hit on a play like that is whenever Mooney is physically cleared — and there is no telling when that will be.
And for the final five games, if Fields does play against Green Bay on Sunday, he no longer has his receiver he is most familiar with, and that could be detrimental to his health. The quarterback-receiver connection has a lot to do with timing, spacing and trust. When Fields takes the snap and looks through his progressions, he is expecting his guys to be in their spots. If they’re not, that easily could lead to unnecessary hits. The last thing the Bears need is for their 23-year-old quarterback to take a beatdown on an already separated shoulder in a losing season.
It can’t be said enough, but Mooney will be missed. It’s not just on the field but what he meant to his teammates and how he presented himself on an everyday basis at Halas Hall.
“I mean just his attitude,” Cole Kmet said during his Monday press conference. “You feel it in the building. He just brings light in the room, a great leader, a dude that everyone seems to gravitate towards. So whenever you lose a guy like that in the huddle it’s definitely tough for the team. And not only, obviously he’s a great playmaker but just his attitude and how he approaches his day to day is just really special.