ATLANTA — If it weren’t for the excruciating pain in their quarterback’s left shoulder, Sunday’s 27-24 loss to the Bears would have been almost indistinguishable for last week’s loss to the Lions.
“Same thing every week,” receiver Darnell Mooney said. “We have the ball in our hands at the end of the game, then don’t win the game.”
The Bears defense, of course, had the opposite complaint: letting the other team do just that late in the fourth quarter.
“To have it end up like this again, it’s tough,” safety Jaquan Brisker said. “But we always have to come back.”
Whether they can will shape the final six weeks of the season.
No one pegged the Bears for a .500 team this season, much less one with legitimate playoff aspirations. But their losing streak, as much as it might help their draft position — they’re now projected to pick third — is threatening to cloud whatever growth is possible in front of them. That’s doubly true with quarterback Justin Fields nursing a shoulder injury that will either keep him out of Sunday’s game against the Jets or severely limit the plays the Bears can call for him. How will the Bears evaluate an offense built around Fields if he’s not there?
The Bears are in danger of having their season pulled further into the muck. There’s only one way out.
“Well, you end the losing streak,” Kmet said. “You get a win.”
When they take the field against the Jets, two months and one day will have passed since the Bears last had a winning record. They’ve lost seven of eight games since then — six by eight points or less and three by a field goal or less. They’ve lost four-straight games since their offensive breakthrough against the Patriots, the last three by a combined seven points.
“Obviously, we’re not accomplishing the main goal, which is winning,” coach Matt Eberflus said Sunday. “That’s an important thing. But there’s also another process to that … We’re building a football team here.”
Eberflus said it wouldn’t be difficult to help his players progress despite the losses — “Rely on their character,” he said — but, at some point, figuring out how to win is part of that development.
It’s unclear when they’ll get their next honest chance at it. The Jets are reeling after losing on a 84-yard punt return touchdown with 5 seconds to play Sunday — but still boast a 6-4 record. The Bears host both the AFC favorite Bills and NFC favorite Eagles in December, and have all three divisional opponents left on their schedule. They don’t figure to be favored at any point the rest of the way. Amazingly, their best chance of a win might be against the Packers.
“For sure, everything has a domino effect,” Mooney said. “You just have to create that effect. We were talking about that on the sidelines, like, ‘Hey let’s finish this one. This is the one we need to convert on.’ We just came up short.”
The Bears as a team don’t have much to play for — they could be eliminated from NFC North contention next week. But their players do.
“You have a locker room of guys who are young guys — and let’s face the fact, we have a lot of guys on one-year contracts — but specifically, a lot of young guys,” center Sam Mustipher said.
They’re not guaranteed anything beyond this season.
“Just keep getting better,” said Fields, one of the few who is. “Take each day on its own and just keep working. We control what we can control. What happened, it’s in the past now. Just keep preparing for the future and keep getting better.
“I know the character of our coaches and our team; they’re going to come to work and get ready to work. Just taking it each day, coming to work, and making the most out of each and every day.”