Bears miss chance at progress in loss to Lions as most reliable players falter late

The emphasis throughout this Bears season is on their dream of developing into a contender, and that outweighs everything else.

They missed a chance to move forward Sunday.

Don’t brush off 31-30 loss to the Lions as inconsequential, or even a positive because of how it could help them in the draft. Losing at home to a fellow rebuilder in the Lions is indefensible, especially when the Bears were up 24-10 with the ball to begin the fourth quarter. Closing that out would’ve been meaningful beyond Sunday.

“It plays a big factor in the big picture,” tight end Cole Kmet said. “You understand where this is going here, obviously, but you want to build a big-picture thing? You’ve gotta win some games.

“You have to get that feeling and understand how to do it. When we’re able to break through this thing and figure it out and be able to execute late in the game, it’s going to be really good for us going forward.”

The most crushing part is that the kids weren’t the ones who blew it. The game fell apart in the hands of some of their most reliable players: quarterback Justin Fields, cornerback Jaylon Johnson and kicker Cairo Santos.

The Bears know they’re going to take losses, but not because of those guys.

Fields made just one mistake Sunday, but it torpedoed the game.

On his pick-6 early in the fourth quarter, he made a brutally bad decision under pressure to loft one to Kmet, and without solid footing, he sailed it well over his head to cornerback Jeff Okudah for an easy interception to tie it at 24.

That’s undoubtedly the lasting image from this defeat, but it’s probably not as alarming as it felt in real time. That’s basically a rookie mistake by a quarterback making his 20th career start. That error can be corrected.

“Just a dumb play,” Fields acknowledged, saying he wished he had just thrown it into Soldier Field’s spray-painted dirt. “I can assure you that will never happen again for the rest of my career.”

If Fields couldn’t read coverages or grasp the playbook, the deficiencies that sunk Mitch Trubisky, that’d be trouble. One disastrous decision, ugly as it was, isn’t a terrifying omen.

By the way, he erased it as only he can: With a 67-yard touchdown run three plays later. We can call it even.

That would’ve guaranteed the Bears going to overtime at worst, but Santos missed the extra point. Lining up on the right hashmark, he sent it on a wild, wobbly hook to the left to leave the Bears leading 30-24.

“It’s easy to just count one point, but there’s so many things that happened,” Santos said. “We all have opportunities to make plays and help the team win. We can’t point fingers about why we didn’t come out with 31 points at the end.”

There’s nothing scarier for this defense than clinging to a six-point lead.

Actually, there is: Seeing a diminished version of Johnson.

There is precious little upon which the Bears’ defense can depend, and Johnson has been an absolute pillar. But he clearly wasn’t right after straining an oblique muscle in practice. He took himself out of the game for part of the second quarter — unusual for someone who rarely misses a snap.

On the Lions’ game-winning drive, Johnson lagged behind wide receiver Kalif Raymond as he got beat for 20 yards and fell a couple steps behind Tom Kennedy as he got free for a 44-yarder.

It’s unclear how much the injury affected Johnson because he declined to speak to reporters.

The Bears have actually dropped 6 of 7, a fact that was easy to forget lately because Fields has been flourishing. But they can’t go all season claiming moral victories. Part of their process must include actual wins, and they especially need to show they’re capable of that against teams on their level.

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