When Bears quarterback Justin Fields expressed frustration following the 12-7 loss to the Commanders on Thursday night — “We always get told that we’re almost there. I’m tired of being almost there” — it left people wondering who’s telling him that. Even if you accentuate the positive, the Bears’ offense looks like it has a long way to go.
But cornerback Jaylon Johnson put that lament into a more palatable context Tuesday, with the Bears hoping to end a three-game losing streak against the Patriots on Monday Night Football at Gillette Stadium.
“Close to winning,” Johnson said. “I feel like that comes from our coaches and I wouldn’t say they’re lying. I wouldn’t say they’re saying it just to say it. We are doing some things better. But a lot of that is overshadowed by the loss.”
Indeed, while the offense languishes near or at the bottom of the NFL in many key categories, and the Bears seem like a long way from serious postseason contention, they are close to winning. The the three consecutive losses that have dropped them to 2-4 have been by a touchdown or less — to the Giants (20-12), the Vikings (29-22) and the Commanders (12-7).
They’ve led in every game this season, including the fourth quarter against the Vikings (22-21) and Commanders (7-3).
“Considering how we’ve been losing these last few weeks, I think we’re pretty close,” Johnson said. “It’s just executing down the stretch. Like any team, there are things to improve. If we [had] won our close games, I feel like the conversations [about] this team would be different. But we’ve shot ourselves in the foot these last few games [that] we’ve lost at the end.”
Johnson’s perspective on the defense is quite different from the offense’s view of things. The Bears’ defense has its issues — the Bears are 29th in the NFL in rushing defense (163 yards per game) and 23rd in sacks (11). But while the defense hasn’t been the anchor coach Matt Eberflus needs it to be while the offense crawls before it walks, it’s still their strength and best hope to win. The Bears are fourth in the NFL in second-half scoring defense (5.8 points per game).
The Bears haven’t been very good at complementary football. The defense made stops that gave the Bears a chance to tie or win against the Giants and Commanders, but punt-return mishaps proved fatal. But when the offense rallied from a 21-3 deficit to take a 22-21 lead against the Vikings in the fourth quarter, the defense broke down — allowing a 17-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that made the difference.
If the Bears are close, they have one huge hurdle to clear. They have to learn how to finish. That’s rarely an easy problem to solve in 10 days.
“Outside of executing?” Johnson said when asked how a teams learns how to put the hammer down. “It’s not too much to change. In that moment, you’ve got to find a way to get it done.”
Every team in the NFL thinks they’re close. The Texans (1-3-1) are 31st in most power rankings, but have a points-differential of minus-13 — better than the AFC South-leading Titans (3-2, minus-22) and second-place Colts (3-2-1, minus-18). The Bears’ minus-25 differential is only three points lower than the defending Super Bowl champion Rams (3-3, minus-22).
“Everybody has been in a situation where they’ve had their backs against the wall and had to fight their way out of it. That’s the situation we’re in,” Johnson said. “There’s times in crunch time, where a play has to be made and we haven’t been on the right side of making those plays.
“We just have to find a way. It’s different for each person, but we’ve got to find a way to win our individual matchups to help the team win.”