Chicago Bears collapse, blowing 21-point lead after Justin Fields’ career day

Bears equaled a team record with a 21-point blown lead

Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields scrambles away from Denver Broncos linebacker Nik Bonitto to throw a touchdown pass during their game Sunday, Oct. 1, 2023, at Soldier Field in Chicago.

CHICAGO – The game had ended a half hour ago, and still Justin Fields sat at his locker wearing his full uniform, eyes glazed over. He stared into the distance after another gut-wrenching loss – maybe the most gut-wrenching loss of his career.

Fields played the best game of his career for three quarters. He threw for 300 passing yards for the first time in his NFL career. His team led by 21 points with less than 16 minutes remaining on the clock.

And then everything collapsed.

The Bears tied a team record with a 21-point blown lead in a loss, 31-28, to the Denver Broncos on Sunday at Soldier Field. The Bears fell to 0-4, losing to a Broncos team that also entered the afternoon winless, having just given up 70 points a week ago.

The Bears have lost 14 consecutive games dating back to last season. It’s a franchise record that keeps growing with every passing week.

Fields couldn’t seem to believe what had just happened. One nearby teammate held his head in his hands. Most of the players left the locker room as quickly as possible.

“Yeah, I mean, it hurt,” Fields said. “To come out with the lead that we had. I wasn’t able to finish it off. So it, of course, hurt. It’s almost like, I don’t know. The emotions flowing everywhere.”

The worst part was that the Bears offense was rolling. At one point, Fields set a franchise record by throwing 16 consecutive completions. He finished the afternoon 28-for-35 passing for 335 passing yards with four touchdowns and one interception. The run game was rolling, too. Khalil Herbert ran for 103 yards on 18 carries and caught a touchdown pass.

The Bears led this game, 28-21. Denver scored with 20 seconds remaining in the third quarter to spark the comeback. The Bears offense imploded in the fourth quarter.

Denver scored twice quickly to pull within seven points. Fields lost a fumble that Broncos outside linebacker Jonathon Cooper returned for a touchdown to tie the game, 28-28. Then the Bears drove 57 yards into field goal range before they faced a fourth-and-1 decision at the Denver 18-yard line.

Rather than kick a field goal with just under three minutes remaining, Bears head coach Matt Eberflus elected to go for it on fourth down. The Bears dialed up a run-pass option. Fields said he saw the defensive end looking to bottle him up, so he handed off to Herbert, who was stuffed short of the line to gain.

“The way we were running the football and the confidence we had on offense in that moment, I would say that we’re going to do that [every time],” Eberflus said.

The way we were running the football and the confidence we had on offense in that moment, I would say that we’re going to do that [every time].”

—  Matt Eberflus, Bears head coach

The plan backfired.

The Broncos drove the other direction and took a lead on a 51-yard field goal from kicker Wil Lutz. The Bears had one last shot to try and tie the game with a field goal, but Fields threw an interception on a pass intended for tight end Cole Kmet.

Fields said he loved Eberflus’ decision to go for it on the fourth-down play.

“If you get it, the game’s over most likely,” Fields said. “Got to make them use their timeouts, probably getting past the two-minute warning and at least you’re kicking a field goal with under a minute left.”

The interception to end the game was a miscommunication between Fields and Kmet. Fields said Kmet ran the route as it was drawn up, but Fields wanted him to adjust based on where the safeties were playing.

“All in all, it’s my fault,” Fields said. “Man coverage, he’s supposed to do what he did, but I wanted him to just play football and sit down in space. That’s why I threw it to the spot how I did. It’s really just a miscommunication.”

The Bears previously blew two 21-point leads. This was the first time since Nov. 10, 2002, when the New England Patriots made a 21-point comeback against the Bears. The other was a 21-point San Francisco 49ers comeback on Oct. 18, 1953.

This one marks another low point for the organization. The Bears were rolling early in this game. The crowd at Soldier Field was electric. But when Denver cut it to 14 points, and then to seven, a nervous energy buzzed through the stadium.

Could this really be happening? Hasn’t this organization seen enough losing over the last 365 days.

“When you’re 0-4, no one’s done the job well enough,” Eberflus said. “That’s just facts.”

Sean Hammond

Sean Hammond

Sean is the Chicago Bears beat reporter for the Shaw Local News Network. He has covered the Bears since 2020. Prior to writing about the Bears, he covered high school sports for the Northwest Herald and contributed to Friday Night Drive. Sean joined Shaw Media in 2016.