The Bears offense had another late-game opportunity to tie or take the lead, but the unit fell short in a 27-24 loss to the Falcons Sunday in Atlanta.
"I told the guys at the end of the game, offense, defense, kicking, we had to play complementary football in the fourth quarter," coach Matt Eberflus said. "And we have to do that to be able to seal these games. But love the way the guys fought. They battled; we were in it at the very end. We just gotta execute better at the end."
The Bears started their final drive at their own 25 with 1:47 left in the game. Quarterback Justin Fields had carries for one yard and four yards on the first two plays, setting up a third-and-5 at the 30. Fields then dropped back and threw a high pass to running back David Montgomery, but the ball tipped off Montgomery's hands and was intercepted by safety Jaylinn Hawkins.
Fields injured his left shoulder on the first play of the final drive, as he landed on it while running out of bounds on the one-yard gain, but remained in the game. The second-year pro also said he was dealing with cramping in his hamstrings throughout the game.
"Yeah, I was hurting, but again, it was the last drive of the game," Fields said. "So I just tried to be there for my teammates and fight through the pain."
A fourth straight loss dropped the Bears to 3-8, while the Falcons moved to 5-6 with the win.
"Just keep getting better, take each day on its own and just keep working," Fields said on how to keep the loss from affecting the remainder of the season. "I mean, control what we can control. What happened is in the past now, so again, just keep preparing for the future. Keep getting better. I know the character of our coaches, our team and they're gonna come to work and get ready to work. So it's just taking each day and just coming to work and making the most out of each and every day."
After the Falcons opened the game up with a touchdown drive, the Bears scored 17 unanswered points as Fields threw a 16-yard TD pass to receiver Darnell Mooney, kicker Cairo Santos made a 41-yard field goal and Fields rushed for a 4-yard score.
But Atlanta worked back from the 17-7 deficit, scoring 17 straight points of their own between the second and third quarters, highlighted by running back Cordarrelle Patterson's 103-yard kickoff return touchdown.
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Fields finished the day as the Bears' leading rusher with 85 yards on 18 carries and a score while completing 14 of 21 passes for 153 yards and a TD, finishing with an 84.0 rating.
The Falcons took a 7-0 lead on the opening drive as quarterback Marcus Mariota threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to receiver Drake London. Mariota got going early with a 9-yard completion to receiver Olamide Zaccheaus then found tight end Kyle Pitts for a 16-yard gain to reach the Chicago 41. Six plays later on first-and-goal, Mariota scrambled left as linebacker Jack Sanborn and tackle Angelo Blackson chased him down, then found London, who broke open in the left corner of the end zone for the score.
The Bears fired back on their first possession as Fields and Mooney connected for a 16-yard touchdown, tying the game at 7-7 with 6:02 remaining in the first quarter. Rookie Velus Jones Jr., who returned after being a healthy inactive the last two games, returned the kickoff 55 yards, setting the offense up at the Atlanta 44. After picking up a pair of first downs, Fields dropped back on third-and-8 and hit an open Mooney in the left corner of the end zone.
Safety DeAndre Houston-Carson forced the first takeaway of the game, punching the ball out of running back Avery Willliams' hands on a punt return at the Atlanta 43. Sanborn recovered the ball at the 41, but the Bears offense was unable to capitalize. On third-and-14, center Sam Mustipher was called for a false start, then Fields was sacked for a loss of 8 yards, bringing out the punt team.
Santos made a 41-yard field goal to extend the Bears lead to 10-7 midway through the second quarter. After Montgomery gained 15 yards to reach midfield, tight end Cole Kmet made a spectacular one-handed grab to haul in a 24-yard pass from Fields, getting the Bears to the Atlanta 27.
On the first play of the Falcons' next drive, Patterson broke free on a 17-yard run, but safety Jaquan Brisker approached from behind and punched the ball out. Cornerback Jaylon Johnson recovered the fumble at the Atlanta 46 and returned it to the 29.
Seven plays later, Fields ran in a 4-yard touchdown to put the Bears up 17-7 with 4:31 left in the first half. On first-and-goal from the 4, Fields took the snap in shotgun, ran left, the cut back inside to reach the end zone. Earlier in the drive on third-and-6, Fields completed a 10-yard pass to receiver Equanimeous St. Brown to reach the 15.
Patterson quickly made up for his fumble, taking the ensuing kickoff 103 yards for a touchdown to cut the Bears' lead down to 17-14. The score marks his ninth career kickoff return for a TD, setting an NFL record.
"The big kick return, by one of the best kick returners in the league, obviously he's done a great job over the years," Eberflus said. "And we gotta do a better job on our cover teams. Our cover team there had to do a better job, the safeties have to squeeze in, keep it there to midfield. So we had to do a better job on that one."
The Bears drove down the field to attempt a 56-yard field goal with just over a minute before halftime, but Santos' kick hit the crossbar and fell short. Atlanta took over at their own 46 and on third-and-6, Mariota hit receiver Damiere Byrd for a 19-yard completion to reach the Chicago 31. Mariota then found Tyler Allgeier for a 9-yard gain to the 22, setting up kicker Younghoe Koo's 40-yard field goal to tie the game at 17-17 going into halftime.
"We missed that long field goal," Eberflus said. "We decided to go for that. Cairo feels good about that inside. At that distance, he hit it a little bit low, little bit too much on the middle part of the ball. But we thought the snap and the hold was good. So I'm sure he wishes he could have that one back."
Mariota ran in a 10-yard touchdown to give the Falcons a 24-17 lead - their first since the opening quarter - with just under two minutes left in the third quarter. Mariota started the drive with a 17-yard completion to tight end MyCole Pruitt. The on third-and-8, Mariotta's pass to Pruitt fell incomplete, but cornerback Kyler Gordon was flagged for roughing the passer, extending the drive. Two plays later, Mariota kept the ball on a read-option then powered past the goal line for the TD.
Montgomery capped off a 13-play, 75-yard drive with a 2-yard touchdown run to tie the score at 24-24 with 8:16 left to play. Fields had multiple key plays on the drive, first hitting Montgomery for a 32-yard completion down the right sideline to reach the Atlanta 18. On third-and-12, Fields extended a play, avoiding multiple tackles before finding an open receiver Equanimeous St. Brown for 14 yards. Then on third-and-goal, Fields' pass was incomplete, but a defensive holding call on A.J. Terrell gave the Bears a fresh set of downs at the 2. On the next play, Montgomery got the ball, looked to go left then cut back inside to get in the end zone.
With 1:47 left in the game, Koo gave the Falcons a 27-24 lead after making a 53-yard field goal. Patterson fueled the drive with 21 rushing yards, including a 6-yard run on fourth-and-2 which put Atlanta at the Chicago 38.
On the Bears' next possession, Fields was intercepted by safety Jaylinn Hawkins on a pass that went through Montgomery's hands at the Chicago 40.