Chicago Bears wide receiver Darnell Mooney worked himself into position to make the crucial fourth-down play Thursday night at Soldier Field.
He cut past Washington Commanders cornerback Benjamin St-Juste toward the right sideline and then turned back toward quarterback Justin Fields’ pass near the goal line.
But as Mooney looked up toward the football, he briefly lost it in the stadium lights and bobbled it as he began to fall down over the line. As Mooney secured the catch, St-Juste brought him down at the 1-yard line.
For the third time in the nationally televised game, the Commanders stopped the Bears within 5 yards of the end zone, and Mooney’s 3-yard catch on fourth-and-4 with 30 seconds to play was the final dagger in a 12-7 loss to the Commanders.
The Bears put up a season-high 392 net yards and yet managed only one second-half touchdown, a failure that meant multiple offensive players spoke of regret in a disappointed locker room after the game.
Mooney told reporters about the issue with the lights but also took full responsibility for coming up short.
“I’ve just got to close the game for us,” Mooney said. “If I want to be that player, I want to be that guy for our team, I’ve got to make that play for sure.
“Losses are tough anyway. So this one is very, very, very tough. If I catch the damn ball, we don’t have to worry about this.”
Fields said there was blame to go around for the red-zone issues, and he repeatedly used one word — “finish.”
“If (Mooney) didn’t bobble it, it probably would’ve been a touchdown for real,” Fields said. “That just goes back to finish the catch, finish the throw, finish the run, finish the blocks. As an offense, we’ve got to finish. I’ve got to be better. We’ve all got to be better.”
On the Bears’ second drive, Fields’ passes to Cole Kmet and Dante Pettis sparked a march that reached first-and-goal at the 6. But on second-and-goal from the 5, Fields threw a pass to Kmet that appeared to bounce off a helmet, and Commanders defensive tackle Jonathan Allen intercepted it.
Bears coach Matt Eberflus said afterward that his players needed to knock the ball down when it popped in the air.
In the second quarter, Khalil Herbert’s 64-yard run brought the Bears to the Commanders 6, and a Commanders penalty for too many men on the field gave the Bears first-and-goal at the 3. After Herbert was stopped for no gain, Fields and tight end Ryan Griffin failed to connect on a second-down play that really irked Fields.
Griffin was wide open in the end zone behind James Smith-Williams, but Fields threw a pass beyond Griffin’s outstretched hand.
“He probably could have ran a little bit more, but he’s wide open,” Fields said. “I’ve got to hit that. I’m an NFL quarterback. I’ve got to hit that.”
After a Fields scramble for 2 yards, Herbert was stuffed for no gain on fourth-and-goal from the 1.
“I think the linebacker was able to come over the top,” center Sam Mustipher said. “That’s really what it comes down to — all of us finishing with our feet in the end zone, and normally we’ll score if that’s the case.”
Those missed opportunities resulted in a 3-0 Commanders halftime edge. While the Bears took a second-half lead on a 40-yard touchdown pass from Fields to Pettis, the Commanders regained the lead on a touchdown following Velus Jones Jr.’s muffed punt.
The Bears’ last red-zone opportunity came after Commanders kicker Joey Slye missed a 48-yard field-goal attempt wide left with 1 minute, 54 seconds to play, giving the Bears a prime opportunity to break a two-game losing streak.
Fields made several big plays, none better than a weaving 39-yard scramble to get to the 5-yard line. After a 1-yard Fields scramble, Smith-Williams got a hand on a pass to Mooney, and it fell incomplete. Fields threw another incompletion to Pettis in the end zone that Fields thought should have been called for pass interference.
And then came the Mooney play.
In his postgame news conference, Eberflus said he thought Fields, who completed 14 of 27 passes for 190 yards with a touchdown and an interception and was sacked five times, took a step forward. He said Fields’ ability to get the Bears into scoring position on the final drive showed improvement. He talked about Fields’ toughness as he played through multiple hits and a left shoulder issue that Fields reaggravated.
But Fields wasn’t taking consolation in those thoughts as the Bears head into a mini-bye week with an Oct. 24 Monday night game against the New England Patriots up next.
“Everybody is mad,” Fields said. “Nobody is happy about this loss. It’s just we always get told that we’re almost there, we’re almost there. Like me personally, I’m tired of being almost there, tired of being just this close. I feel like I’ve been hearing it for so long now.
“At the end of the day all you can do is get back to work. That’s the only reaction you have.”