CHICAGO – A beat up, grass-stained Justin Fields sat at his locker staring at his phone. Darnell Mooney, shirtless and on his way to the shower, shared a handshake with his buddy and sat down next to him.
The Bears star quarterback and his top receiver shared a few whispered words with one another. A short while earlier, they had failed to convert on a potential game-winning touchdown at the goal line. On fourth down with the game on the line, Mooney bobbled a pass from Fields. When he did eventually come down with it, the ball was an inch short of the goal line. The Commanders beat the Bears, 12-7, at Soldier Field.
It was a gut-wrenching way to lose a football game. It was the perfectly ugly way to end an ugly Thursday Night Football game.
“We always get told that we’re almost there, we’re almost there,” Fields said at his postgame news conference. “Me personally, I’m tired of being almost there. I’m tired of being just this close. I feel like I’ve been hearing it for so long now. At the end of the day, all you can do is get back to work.”
Even after all the ugliness Thursday night, the Bears had a chance.
Fields scrambled for a 39-yard gain down to the 5-yard line with the clock ticking under a minute. The Bears had three tries from inside the 5. On third down, receiver Dante Pettis had a defender draped all over him, but it didn’t draw a penalty flag. Then on the key fourth down, the pass originally crossed the goal line, but Mooney’s bobble likely cost them. When he finally gained control, he was short of the end zone.
Mooney said afterward that he lost the ball in the lights for a split second.
“If I want to be that guy for our team, I’ve got to make that play,” Mooney said.
Fields said there was no second-guessing his decision to throw to Mooney. He threw the ball to his best playmaker in the game’s biggest moment.
“I’m doing it every trip,” Fields said. “If my boy’s open. I’ve got full trust in him.”
In a matchup between two NFC teams with losing records on a nationally broadcast game, neither offense showed much promise. The Commanders were apparently the team more prepared to win ugly. Washington quarterback Carson Wentz didn’t have a great performance, but it was enough to stay ahead of Fields and the Bears. Wentz threw for 99 yards on 12-of-22 passing with no touchdowns.
The first half, in particular, was a mess. Washington took a 3-0 lead into halftime. The only scoring drive of the half was aided by a pair of defensive pass interference penalties against the Bears. The Bears twice reached the red zone in the first half and twice came away with no points.
After halftime, Fields connected with Pettis for a 40-yard touchdown to give the Bears their first lead, 7-3. It was arguably the Bears’ best offensive play of the game and could’ve been a spark for head coach Matt Eberflus’ team.
Instead, it was one of the few highlights.
For the second time in three weeks, Bears rookie Velus Jones Jr. muffed a fourth-quarter punt that turned out to be quite costly. Jones fumbled near his own 10-yard line and the Commanders recovered it at the 6. Washington running back Brian Robinson Jr. punched in a 1-yard touchdown run moments later.
Fields was under pressure all game long. His offensive line struggled at nearly every position.
Thursday was supposed to be one of the more winnable games on the Bears’ schedule. Now, Eberflus and the Bears are searching for answer. The Bears (2-4) have lost three consecutive games. The Commanders (2-4) had lost four in a row entering play Thursday.
Fields gave his team a chance near the end, but the Bears fell inches short. He was 14-for-27 passing for 190 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He took five sacks in the game, while also rushing for 88 yards on 12 carries.
After the game, Mooney sat at Fields’ locker for a while, the frustration and disappointment apparent on their faces. They huddled their heads watching Fields’ phone, likely watching the replay of that final play. Offensive coordinator Luke Getsy stopped by and whispered something in Fields’ ear before leaving.
Those three have plenty more work ahead of them.