3 and Out: Matt Eberflus, Bears collapse in 31-28 loss to Denver Broncos

Clock management becomes major issue

Chicago Bears wide receiver DJ Moore looks to get by Denver Broncos cornerback Pat Surtain II during their game Sunday, Oct. 1, 2023, at Soldier Field in Chicago.

Justin Fields and the Bears built a 28-7 lead Sunday but collapsed in the second half for a stunning 31-28 home loss to the previously winless Denver Broncos.

Bears coach Matt Eberflus opted to bypass a go-ahead field goal with less than three minutes remaining, which was just one of several questionable decisions he made Sunday, as the Bears continued to spiral. Here’s what you need to know:

Three moments that mattered

1. Fields took the field with 1:48 remaining and trailing 31-28. He was tagged for an intentional grounding on a pass attempt five plays into the drive and was intercepted by Broncos defensive back Kareem Jackson a short time later to seal the Bears’ 14th straight loss. An utter collapse.

2. Tied at 28-28 with 2:57 left and facing fourth-and-1 at Denver’s 18-yard line, Eberflus opted to keep hus offense on the field. Running back Khalil Herbert was then stopped short for the turnover on downs on a run up the gut that never got close. Taking the ball out of Fields’ hands on a game-changing conversion is one move we can’t endorse. To summarize, Eberflus bypassed a field goal and then didn’t put the ball in star QB’s hands. We should mention Eberflus also burned a valuable timeout in the process.

3. Up 28-21 with 6:55 remaining, Fields was sacked and fumbled, which was scooped up and returned 29 yards for a touchdown by Broncos linebacker Jonathon Cooper. Either Fields didn’t recognize the blitz or someone missed an assignment. Either way, it’s one example where Fields must be smarter with the football and just take the sack. Instead, tie game.

Three things that worked

1. That’s more like it: Fields easily looked the best he has all season, if not ever, as a passer. His lone incompletion in the first half came on a throwaway Hail Mary to close the half. Fields passed for 231 yards and three touchdowns, and the Bears averaged 9.1 yards per play and had 11 passing first downs in the first half. Fields finished 28 of 35 for a career-high 335 yards and four TDs.

2. WR1: DJ Moore looked exactly like the wide receiver general manager Ryan Poles envisioned when the Bears traded away the No. 1 pick. Moore showcased a bit of everything: possession receiver, field stretcher and he was able to take a couple big hits to reward Fields’ patience. Moore finished with eight catches for 131 yards and a touchdown.

3. Khalil Herbert: While the spotlight will be bright on Herbert’s carry on fourth down in the fourth quarter, the second-year back had his best performance of 2023 with with 103 yards on 18 carries. He also caught four passes for 19 yards and a touchdown.

Three things that didn’t

1. Utter collapse: The Broncos scored 24 unanswered points after the Bears led 28-7. Two offensive touchdowns, the fumble returned for a score and Will Lutz’s field goal with 1:46 remaining erased the sizable lead. The defense’s collapse to a lowly Broncos team cannot be underscored enough.

2. Eberflus’ hot seat: We’ll discuss more about Eberflus’ clock management decisions below, but the burning moment Eberflus will have to answer for is the decision to bypass a field goal from 32 yards out in favor of a shotgun draw rush on fourth-and-1, which was stuffed. After holding a 28-7 lead, that’s the type of loss that will burn Eberflus’ seat white hot.

3. Clock management: Eberflus elected to punt near midfield on their opening possession; then opted to be aggressive on a very similar situation on their second drive, which resulted in a touchdown. The first decision appeared to indicate Eberflus didn’t trust his offense enough. Then, to close the first half, the Bears were approaching midfield with about a minute to work with armed with three timeouts. The drive concluded with a puzzling turnover on downs in which the Bears left at least three points on the field.

What’s next?

The Bears have a quick turnaround and face the Washington Commanders at 715 p.m. Thursday.

Jacob Bartelson

Jacob Bartelson

Jake is a full-time sports reporter writing primarily for the Kane County Chronicle covering preps. His collective work is featured across several Shaw markets and platforms, including Friday Night Drive and Bears Insider. Jake began full-time in 2017.