5 big takeaways from Chicago Bears’ gut-wrenching loss against Cleveland Browns

Bears can’t take advantage of 3 interceptions

Cleveland Browns defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson sacks Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields in the first half in Cleveland, Sunday, Dec. 17, 2023.

CLEVELAND – A Hail Mary that slipped through the fingers of Bears receiver Darnell Mooney could’ve changed everything. It would’ve been an all-time moment.

Instead, it goes down as a fun footnote in an otherwise disappointing afternoon Sunday at Cleveland Browns Stadium. The Bears lost, 20-17, after leading by 10 points in the fourth quarter. The defense had three interceptions, including one brought back for a touchdown, and still the Bears couldn’t close out a victory.

Head coach Matt Eberflus’ team watched its already slim playoff hopes go on life support.

Here are the five big takeaways following a disappointing turn of events on Sunday.

1. Disappointment and frustration

Chicago Bears safety Eddie Jackson celebrates an interception in the first half against the Cleveland Browns in Cleveland, Sunday, Dec. 17, 2023.

Safety Eddie Jackson sat deep in his locker. Like, so deep that he could hardly be seen. His back rested against the wall at the back of the barebones locker in the visiting team’s locker room.

The first thing that came out of his mouth summed it up: “I don’t even know what to say.”

Jackson had the Bears first interception of the afternoon against Cleveland quarterback Joe Flacco. He picked off Flacco in the first half and ran the ball back 27 yards before he was met with a hard tackle at the 1-yard line. It gave the Bears’ offense the ball three feet shy of a touchdown. The offense scored, eventually, but it wasn’t as easy as one might imagine (more on that later).

Cornerback Tyrique Stevenson and linebacker Tremaine Edmunds also had interceptions in the game. Edmunds scored on a 45-yard interception return. The Bears have had three or more takeaways in four consecutive games now. The defense carried the load for a struggling offense, again and again.

Until the final minutes.

“We had our destiny in our hands,” Jackson said. “Like, we had it. And we had it. We knew that it was going to be a tough game. Everybody knew, especially on defense, it was going to be a defensive game on both sides. They’ve got a good defense. We knew they were going to give our offense work. We knew it. And we have a good defense. So we knew that it was going to be a defensive game. We knew that. It’s not like we came in, like, ‘Man offense is going to put up points.’ We weren’t looking for offense to put up points. We were just looking to get turnovers, stop and score on defense, which we did. Just at the end, we couldn’t finish.”

2. Defensive breakdown

Early in the game, it was the defense setting things up for the offense. Later, things began to shift.

The Browns made a field goal with 12:31 to go, which cut the Bears’ lead to seven points. They punted on their next two possessions (they punted 10 total times in the game). A short while later, the Browns created their biggest explosive play when they really needed it.

Joe Flacco dropped back and unleashed a ball for receiver Amari Cooper, who had three Bears players surrounding him. Somehow, Flacco threaded the needle.

“I was on the other side and I seen him, I thought the ball was going to get picked, honestly,” Jackson said.

Cooper caught the ball and was off to the races for a 51-yard touchdown. The score tied the game, 17-17.

Again, the Bears offense went three-and-out. The Browns used two big gains from tight end David Njoku to set up the game-winning field goal.

On the second one, a 34-yard gain on third-and-15, the Bears blitzed and sent defensive tackle Justin Jones into coverage. It was meant to cause confusion, but it backfired. Jones ended up being the nearest defender to Njoku when he caught the ball and the 309-pound tackle had no chance of running down the tight end.

“It’s a sim pressure, you’re simulating there and he’s the one guy dropping back,” said Eberflus, who calls the defensive play for his team. “Typically that pressure is going to hit and the ball’s going to be out a little quicker.”

3. About the offense...

Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields looks to throw in the first half against the Cleveland Browns in Cleveland, Sunday, Dec. 17, 2023.

The Bears offense had one touchdown drive. It started at the 1-yard line. And it didn’t go as planned.

The Bears needed eight tries to find the end zone, which pretty much sums up the day for coordinator Luke Getsy’s offense. The Browns stuffed every Bears run attempt. Cleveland also committed three penalties (one for pass interference and two for having 12 men on the field).

The Bears tried the tush push play, but tight end Cole Kmet jumped for a false start. That pushed the Bears back to the 5-yard line. Fields threw an incompletion on what was second down and then, finally, connected with Kmet for a touchdown on third-and-goal. It went down as a four-play, 1-yard drive, but the reality was the Bears needed eight tries to move the ball three feet.

“I’m just glad we were able to bounce back from the penalty,” Fields said after the game.

The offense’s longest drive was a 61-yard possession before halftime that ended with an interception on a Hail Mary. Fields took a hard hit on the play, too – arguably a late hit. The Bears were just outside field goal range and came away with no points.

I’ve got to play better as the quarterback of this team and we’ve all got to be better on offense.”

—  Justin Fields, Bears quarterback

The offense was just 4-of-18 on third down and 0-for-2 on fourth-down tries. It totaled 236 yards, including 148 through the air.

“I’ve got to play better as the quarterback of this team and we’ve all got to be better on offense,” Fields said.

4. Montez Monster

Chicago Bears defensive lineman Montez Sweat knocks the ball out of the hands of Cleveland Browns quarterback Joe Flacco, Sunday, Dec. 17, 2023, in Cleveland.

The defense had four more sacks on Sunday, and Montez Sweat accounted for 2.5 of them. It started with a strip sack against Flacco in the first half. That nearly turned into another Bears turnover, but the ball bounced out of bounds before a Bears defender could jump on it.

In the third quarter, he sacked Flacco on a third-and-10. Then he shared a sack with defensive tackle Gervon Dexter in the fourth quarter. Sweat finished with seven combined tackles and three QB hits.

Still, it wasn’t enough.

“It’s very frustrating, especially in a close game like then when you’re leading most of the game and letting it slip out, slip through our fingertips at the end,” Sweat said.

NFL Next Gen Stats tracked Sweat at six pressures when he lined up against Browns right tackle James Hudson.

5. Injuries, playoffs and draft picks

Injury updates: Late in the first half, Bears left guard Teven Jenkins left the contest with a concussion. He did not return. Veteran guard Cody Whitehair played the remainder of the game at left guard.

After a third-down play, Jenkins tried to push himself off the ground, but fell back to the grass in pain. The 6-foot-6, 321-pound lineman struggled to get up off the turf and needed help to walk slowly back to the Bears’ sideline.

Playoff hopes: The Bears’ playoff odds are hovering at 3%, according to The New York Times’ model. Winning the final three games still gives them only a 24% chance. They would need significant help from other teams.

The No. 1 pick: The Panthers beat the Falcons on Sunday. With it, they moved to 2-12 on the season. The Patriots and Cardinals are now only one game off the mark for the No. 1 draft pick.

That puts the Bears, who hold the rights to the Panthers’ pick, in danger. Carolina finishes the season with Green Bay, Jacksonville and Tampa Bay. It will be easiest for Bears fans if the Panthers lose all three of those. If the Panthers pick up another win, tiebreakers could come into play.

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.