Justin Fields’ fourth quarter Sunday was a rollercoaster ride that belonged as much in Gurnee as Soldier Field.
He sprinted for a breathtaking 67-yard touchdown run — the longest by any Bears quarterback in franchise history — and threw an interception that former Ohio State teammate Jeff Okudah returned for a 20-yard touchdown.
Otherwise, the offense was stuck in mud in the final frame. Take away Fields’ touchdown run, and they gained 18 yards on 16 fourth-quarter plays in a 31-30 loss to the Lions at Soldier Field.
It continued a trend that concerns Bears coaches and players alike: on 16 possessions when tied or trailing by a touchdown or less this season, the Bears have managed only two touchdowns and two field goals.
Breaking down Fields’ up-and-down fourth quarter:
On second-and-18 from their own 17 — the Bears were backed up because of a hold on tight end Ryan Griffin on what would have been a 19-yard run by Khalil Herbert — Fields faked a handoff to his left.
He looked to throw a screen right to tight end Cole Kmet. Lions defensive end Aidan Hutchinson, the No. 2 overall pick in April, recognized the screen and, rather than rush Fields, backpedaled toward Kmet.
Fields pump-faked to try to create some space for Kmet, then rolled right for two more steps before two Lions lunged for him. He was at the 5 when he tried to loft the pass over Hutchinson and to Kmet, but sailed the pass over both their heads. It was caught by Okudah, who was five yards behind the tight end. He returned the interception for a touchdown.
“Tried to move him a little bit and tried to float it over Cole, and just overthrew it,” Fields said. “I just gotta ‘dirt’ it on the next play.”
It gave the Lions life.
“We’ve been in that position earlier this year and we haven’t been able to capitalize …” Okudah said. “We looked at the challenge straight up, and we embraced it.”
Three plays later, Fields lined up in a shotgun formation with three tight ends on the field. Griffin and Trevon Wesco were set along the line of scrimmage next to right tackle Riley Reiff. Kmet, one step off the line, went in motion from left to right as Fields faked a handoff up the middle to David Montgomery.
Fields followed Kmet around the right edge, where the tight end was one-on-one with cornerback Mike Hughes.
Kmet did what he always does on that play, which has proven popular for the Bears since the Patriots game: he aimed to block the outside shoulder of the furthest outside defender. Fields was supposed to follow him outside.
“I don’t know how he saw that cutback, but that is special,” Kmet said. “That was pretty cool to watch.”
Fields never slowed as he ran upfield and cut inside of safety Kerby Joseph at the Bears’ 41. Joseph dove and missed him. Fields was never touched as he ran toward the left sideline and into the end zone for a 67-yard touchdown.
“I didn’t realize how fast he’s gotten since college,” said Okudah, Fields’ former teammate at Ohio State. “He’s a fast guy now.”
Head coach Matt Eberflus smiled Monday when describing the athleticism it took for Fields to score.
“I think I taught him everything, there, that he needs to know on that play,” he said.
The final drive
The Bears’ final possession featured two incomplete passes, two sacks and one checkdown throw to Montgomery. They gained one first down: -on a third-down defensive holding flag on Joseph.
The next play, Fields stood in the shotgun with two receivers split left and Kmet in the left slot. Kmet was looking back toward Fields on a crossing route, while Okudah was chasing receiver Dante Pettis’ shallow cross from right to left. The two collided. Okudah kneed Kmet in the right thigh.
Fields was mid-throw to Kmet when he saw him fall. The quarterback tried to hold up, but the ball squirted out for an incomplete pass.
The Lions were “messed up in their coverage,” Kmet said. They played zone on the right side of the field, yet Okudah reacted as though he was in man on the left side.
Either way, Kmet was open.
“That would’ve been a big play if there was no collision there,” Kmet said.
With Kmet on the sideline, Fields dropped back on second down. Rushing over Reiff, Hutchinson pushed his way to the left and grabbed Fields with his right arm for a sack.
The clock kept running. The Bears lined up quickly for third-and-15 and checked the ball down to Montgomery for seven yards before taking a timeout with 1:12 to play.
On fourth-and-eight, the Bears put two receivers left and offset Griffin, the backup tight end, from the left tackle. He and Montgomery stayed in to block. The Lions rushed six against the Bears’ seven, and still sacked Fields.
“We got to do a better job protecting on that particular one, but, you know, it’s all about being able to just sit back there and deliver the ball,” Eberflus said. “And it comes down to protecting him too.”
In other game situations, the Bears have their league-best rushing attack — or at least the threat of it — at their disposal. Not so much in the two-minute drill Sunday.
The Bears needed to be more precise.
“The playbook’s more open when it’s the second, third quarter,” Kmet said. “You kinda have a lot of things at your disposal. So I think in that sense they’re kinda understanding, ‘Hey, it’s full-on pass situations.’
“So we’ve gotta be able to do a better job in our protections and getting open on routes and things like that.”