Three Strikes, You’re Out

| December 18th, 2023

For the 3rd time this season, the Chicago Bears held a 10+ point lead in the 4th quarter. For the 3rd time this season, they surrendered their lead and ultimately lost in regulation, with a final offensive rally falling flat.

Just like the Denver & Detroit games that predated their trip to Cleveland, ESPN’s analytics gave Chicago a 90+% of winning this game just as the 3rd quarter ended. But, just like those games, the Bears found a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

These three games plainly hammer home the most frustrating part of the Bears’ 2023 season — the 5-9 Bears, currently the 5th-worst team in the NFL via draft order, are not a talentless bunch. They don’t lack playmakers, they don’t struggle to compete with the team across from them. If football games ended after the 3rd quarter, Chicago would be 8-6-1.

But, of course, that’s not how football works. NFL games are won & lost in the 4th quarter, and it tells you everything you need to know that the 2023 Chicago Bears have yet to win a game that weren’t already winning when they entered the 4th quarter. Combine that with yesterday’s NFL season record-tying third blown 10+ point lead in the 4th quarter, and you start to see a worrying trend — this roster has the talent to earn leads in this league, but it’s coaching staff can’t seem to close.

It’s never as simple as ‘just blaming the coaches’ — Robert Tonyan & Darnell Mooney dropped game-changing passes, TJ Edwards and Jaylon Johnson had opportunities to end the Browns’ early touchdown drive early via interceptions that got dropped, and Trent Taylor muffed two punts, with only one of those muffs coming back to bite him. The players need to execute, and everyone (including the quarterback) needs to own these rough results.

But fool me once against the Broncos, shame on you. Fool me twice in Detroit, shame on me. Fool me a third time in Cleveland, and I think it’s simple — with three strikes against him, Matt Ebeflus is likely out.

What that would mean for Justin Fields remains to be seen, but with Carolina’s pick looming large and Fields entering the 4th year of his rookie contract, I’d imagine the odds of him staying in Chicago under a new head coach are slim. If he wants to stay, he’ll have to prove it over these next 3 games.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

The Good:

  • Chicago’s defense played unbelievably well and I’m heartbroken for them over the result. Montez Sweat has unlocked a turnover-hungry unit that’s getting contributions from everyone — Justin Jones got early pressure that led to an Eddie Jackson interception returned to the 1-yard-line, TJ Edwards dislodged a football that Tremaine Edmunds took back to the house, and even CB Tyrique Stevenson came up huge to steal points away from Cleveland after Trent Taylor’s second muff of the day. The defense made mistakes late, but ultimately scored (or directly led to scoring) nearly as many points as their opponent scored against them — it’s a shame Chicago’s offense couldn’t win this game for them. They’ve been outstanding.
  • Braxton Jones might be the real deal. Myles Garrett is too good to not affect the game across from him, but Chicago’s 5th round LT kept Garrett from logging even one QB Hit on the day. All-22 will paint a better picture of how well Braxton battled Garrett, but given that Justin Fields logged a 3.48 second time-to-throw on the day I have a feeling the tape will be kind to the Bears’ offensive line.
    • Update: This bullet is looking like a phantom memory, Braxton effectively gave up pressure all day. Not sure what I thought I saw, but I’ll know more on review later.

The Bad

  • You won’t win many games if you can’t score. Chicago finished the day with 3.4 yards per play, less than 250 yards of total offense, nine three-and-outs, and only two drives of 40 yards or more on the day. The run game struggled mightily and the passing game isn’t self-sustaining, so when the Bears weren’t ripping off chunk plays downfield they spent the day not doing much at all.
    • Luke Getsy has to own the Bears’ offensive disfunction, but Justin Fields shouldn’t be exempt from criticism — Fields may not have been the problem in Cleveland, but he wasn’t the solution either. That said, the All-22 will give us a much better picture of what happened on offense yesterday — did Fields pass on open looks downfield? Or did the Browns simply blanket the Bears’ WRs on a day where DJ Moore was clearly hobbled? We’ll find out tomorrow.

The Ugly

  • The future seems far too uncertain. It’s easy for me, a writer, to write pretty words about the failings of Chicago’s head coach, but do George McCaskey, Kevin Warren, and Ryan Poles see things that way? Surely they can’t be satisficed with an overperforming roster and an underperforming record, but with Eberflus finding major wins over divisional opponents recently I can’t help wondering if a spoonful of victory over the hapless Cardinals and Falcons would set the table for Matt’s retention following a big win in Green Bay.
    • In my opinion, if the Bears are going to consider drafting a new QB I’d rather they did so with a new HC in town. I’d love to see the organization do everything they can to support a rookie QB, including hiring the best offensive coaches available to surround their chosen signal-caller with competency & give him the best opportunity possible to succeed where no one else has. But do Eberflus’ defensive accolades help the Bears’ brass look past these consistent late-game failures? Only time will tell.

Postgame Podcast:

Nick and I recorded a podcast where we talked through the ups, the downs, the ins, and the outs of Chicago’s latest loss here:

Your Turn: How do you feel about yesterday’s game?

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