True or false: Coaching played a role in the Chicago Bears’ collapse against the Detroit Lions

Another week, another review of what might have been if the Chicago Bears could just finish games.

The latest failure came when the Detroit Lions scored 17 unanswered points in the fourth quarter Sunday at Ford Field to pull off a 31-26 victory. It was the Bears’ eighth loss in 11 games this season and their ninth NFC North loss in as many games in coach Matt Eberflus’ two seasons.

As the Bears look for answers with two more divisional matchups coming up, Tribune writers Dan Wiederer and Colleen Kane sort through it all in a spirited “true or false” conversation.

True or false? The Bears’ 31-26 loss to the Lions was about as bad a defeat as a team could suffer.

Wiederer: False. The “Brutal Losses” file at Halas Hall is not only packed, it doesn’t ever gather much dust. So the research isn’t difficult. Sunday’s late collapse was painful and dispiriting for certain, but this team has had significantly worse displays to lament.

What about last season’s trip to Ford Field, for example, a 41-10 embarrassment by the Lions that illuminated a team with little talent and even less belief? Or what about Week 1 this season as the Bears greeted the rival Green Bay Packers with a flat and sloppy effort in an agonizing 38-20 home loss.

Two weeks later, the uncompetitive stink bomb the Bears dropped in Kansas City was difficult to watch. And blowing a 21-point second-half lead to the Denver Broncos in Week 4 probably stung worse than Sunday’s unraveling in the final five minutes.

At least this time the Bears showed some competence and competitiveness. The offense found its groove on the opening drive and did a nice job controlling the game for much of the afternoon. The defense provided three interceptions. For 55 minutes, the Bears looked like an improving group capable of hanging with one of the league’s best teams.

And then they fell apart. But, hey, at least they didn’t lose when a game-winning field-goal attempt hit the upright and then the crossbar, right?

Kane: Yikes, there are too many bad losses to choose from. (But did you really have to bring up the double doink?) You’re right, at least the Bears were entertaining through 3 1/2 quarters. A defense that has been short on takeaways this season finally came up with plays. Quarterback Justin Fields made a strong return from his thumb injury. Special teams made an impact too.

So in that way, it was certainly better than the loss to the Chiefs. But I’ll agree with tight end Cole Kmet that the Bears are past moral victories at this point.

I’ll be curious to see how the Bears players respond to this one because they seemed pretty stunned — and some seemed on edge — in the locker room after the game. The losses in so many varying fashions could take a toll, and I wonder how coach Matt Eberflus can keep his players focused over the final six games.

Perhaps having Fields back will continue to provide a boost. Maybe a soft remaining schedule will help too. The Bears need something to stop them from adding to that overstuffed file.

True or false? Justin Fields got off to a good start as he tries to prove himself to the Bears over the final seven games.

Kane: True. Fields did a lot of good things on his way to throwing for 169 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions and rushing for 104 yards. The passing numbers weren’t the flashiest, but Fields made some big throws from the pocket and also found targets on the move.

His 39-yard touchdown pass to DJ Moore after climbing the pocket fell perfectly into Moore’s hands as the wide receiver ran through the end zone. Moore said it was similar to the play on which Fields overthrew him earlier in the game, and Fields made the right adjustment. His second-longest throw, a 24-yard dime to Darnell Mooney, came as Fields moved left while pressured by two Lions defenders. There were a lot of those moments.

The loss added to the Bears’ fourth-quarter woes, but this failure to finish didn’t fall much on Fields. He made the right decision throwing deep to Tyler Scott on third-and-9 with 2 minutes, 51 seconds to play. Scott misjudged the ball and couldn’t reel it in for what might have been a game-sealing catch.

The Bears have used the word “consistency” when talking about Fields. If he can build on this performance over the next six games, he will make the decision regarding their quarterback future much more interesting.

Wiederer: Yep. You hit it on the head. Positive step, even in a loss. Now it needs to be backed up with consistency next week against the Minnesota Vikings. And in Week 14 against the Lions. And so on and so forth through the finish line of the season.

I was thoroughly impressed with how Fields played. Of the 33 passing plays dialed up for him, I marked only three as “iffy/ugly.” One was that missed post shot to Moore in the first half that you mentioned. Fields also was way off the mark on an end-zone throw to Robert Tonyan in the first quarter, and a throw to Moore inside the red zone in the second quarter was a tad late near the left sideline and nearly intercepted.

But there was so much to love in Sunday’s performance, including the infectious energy Fields played with. His pocket awareness and poise were terrific for most of the afternoon. He made several nice throws with his eyes up while on the move. He made good decisions in the read-option game and ran the ball with purpose, most notably on that 29-yard scramble and dance show he put on during the Bears’ final field-goal drive.

Those who weren’t encouraged by Fields’ play are just being difficult. But those calling for a series of strong performances down the stretch are on point.

True or false? Jaylon Johnson’s bid to get paid top-of-the-market money in his second contract took a significant hit.

Wiederer: True. Mistakes happen. Missed opportunities are part of football. But Johnson had way too many missteps, starting with a 34-yard pass-interference penalty against Josh Reynolds in the first half.

Johnson took exception to the suggestion he dropped a potential pick-six in the second quarter when he undercut a Jared Goff pass to Amon-Ra St. Brown near the goal line but failed to secure it.

“It didn’t go through my hands. It touched one of my hands,” Johnson said. “I couldn’t get both of them on it. I probably could have taken a better angle.”

Still, “it’s a play I have to make,” Johnson acknowledged.

Even worse was the fourth-quarter gift Johnson bungled on a wild pitch by Goff in Lions territory that sailed right to him with the Bears needing to add to their 23-14 lead. That pass hit a diving Johnson in the shoulder pad before spilling to the turf. That’s a play the NFL’s elite game-changers make, a potential win-sealing opportunity that was missed.

Kane: Johnson’s body of work as a whole will be evaluated as the Bears or another team considers how much to pay him, and there has been plenty of good, consistent play over four seasons. So I don’t know if I would classify it as a “significant hit.” But you’re right that elite players can’t have such missteps.

Making either of those interceptions would have helped Johnson’s quest to get a bigger contract. He still has only three interceptions for his career, two in the same game against the Las Vegas Raiders in October. And as you pointed out, he knows he needs to seize opportunities for game-changing plays.

“Not easy catches,” he said. “But I’m a player that can make those plays and I’ve got to do it.”

True or false? The coaches’ performance played a role in the Bears’ collapse.

Kane: True. You have to dissect everything when you melt down like the Bears did in the fourth quarter, when the Lions stormed back from 12 points down in the final 4:15. That includes coaching decisions, play calling and having players prepared to finish games.

Plenty of decisions seem worthy of examination. On offense, Eberflus’ choice to have Cairo Santos kick a field goal early in the fourth quarter to put the Bears up 23-14 rather than go for it on fourth-and-1. The three run plays that totaled 5 yards and led to Santos’ final field goal rather than a touchdown with 4:15 to play.

And then the three plays on the Bears’ second-to-last drive: two Khalil Herbert carries — one a read option — and the incomplete deep shot to Scott. Not all of those calls necessarily were wrong, but the outcomes played a part in the loss.

And then there’s the defense, which wilted as Goff easily led two touchdown drives to win it. There were some obvious player errors, but it’s fair to ask what Eberflus and his coaches can do better to prevent such collapses from happening. And because it’s not an isolated occurrence over the last two seasons, it’s fair to ask what it means for the coaches’ future.

Wiederer: Since the day Eberflus arrived, he has emphasized situational awareness and situational practice. Yet 28 games into his tenure, the Bears still are lamenting their inability to finish games properly.

You’re right, Sunday was not an isolated incident and not even the first time this group blew a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter this season. It’s difficult to watch a team like the Lions overcome an erratic performance and salvage their day with the proper finishing focus and not wonder why the Bears are so erratic in game-on-the-line situations.

Heck, mediocre teams all over the NFL are finding ways to win while the Bears continue to stumble. Sunday’s loss dropped the Bears to 2-11 in one-score games under Eberflus. That qualifies as a trend. And it definitely registers as problematic.

Given the game flow and the way the defense was playing, I didn’t hate the decision to bypass a fourth-and-1 attempt for the Santos kick that put the Bears up two scores early in the fourth quarter. But that has to be backed up by winning contributions in the clutch from the team’s game-changers. Instead, the Bears were outscored 17-0 in the final 4:15, a total team breakdown for which the head coach must be accountable.

Eberflus is 6-22 as Bears coach, 0-9 in the NFC North, and has yet to win consecutive games. The Bears went 1-5 against playoff teams in 2022 and are 0-4 this season against teams currently inside the playoff picture. They’re just not good enough. And at some point, “not good enough” must register as “not good enough.”


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