LANDOVER, Md. – When things are going poorly in baseball -- when the losses are piling up and momentum is snowballing -- most teams have the luxury of turning to a stopper. They can hand the ball to Pedro Martinez or Greg Maddux and put it on their horse’s arm to change the tide.
Things are rarely like that in football. It’s a game built on the execution of 11 men on each side of the ball. One weak link in the chain and even the most herculean performance might not be enough to flip the momentum.
Football can be cruel and unrelenting.
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The Bears found this out the hard way during a 14-game losing streak that spanned 347 days leading into Thursday night’s game against the Washington Commanders at FedEx Field.
Fourteen straight losses probably didn’t indicate how they played during that stretch. They’d blown multiple two-possession leads during that time. Whenever the Bears were on the cusp of a win, something would go wrong. See: Week 4 vs. the Broncos.
So, it was understandable Thursday, as the Commanders slowly cut a 24-point deficit to 10, that the Bears would get tight. That the weight of 14 straight losses would cause them to press. To expect disaster.
The feeling inside the building has been that they just needed to find a way to get off the mat. One win. One moment of reprieve could allow this group to breathe and refocus on what they still believe can be a successful season.
They needed a stopper to deliver that moment. They needed their best player’s gravitational force, his supreme excellence, to stop the Bears’ wheel of torment from spinning and make it start going in the other direction.
With 4:09 left in Thursday’s game and the Bears leading by 10, wide receiver DJ Moore ensured the streak stopped at 14.
On third-and-2 from their own 44, quarterback Justin Fields dropped back against a Cover Zero look and immediately turned left to fire in Moore’s direction. Rookie cornerback Emmanuel Forbes read it and went to jump the route.
For 347 days, Fields and the Bears’ offense had been unable to convert in these moments when given the chance to break the skid. This pass had been picked off or batted down, the Bears’ momentum would stall, and the opponent would rip their heart out through their throats.
Not this time.
Fields rifled a pass right past Forbes’ hand and into Moore’s grasp, allowing the receiver to turn upfield and race 56 yards for a game-sealing touchdown that capped off an eight-catch, 230-yard, three-score day for Moore.
“Dagger!” safety Jaquan Brisker said of Moore’s final scoring strikes after the Bears’ 40-20 win over the Commanders. “Dagger! That was huge. The offense finished on their side. Justin, that’s a closeout for him. That’s big momentum. I’m thanking the offense, put that out there.”
“Crazy catch,” Darnell Mooney said.
A week after blowing a 21-point, second-half lead to the Denver Broncos, the Bears watched the same script start to play out at FedEx Field. A 24-point lead became 16 and then 10—the offensive momentum ground to a halt, and the injuries piled up.
Back-to-back blown 20-plus point leads would almost certainly vaporize whatever confidence this Bears still had that their process was the right one to deliver results. It could have been a potentially regime-crippling collapse.
Instead, Moore stabilized a locker room that rough NFL knuckles had bludgeoned.
“Big time players make big time plays in big time situations,” linebacker Tremaine Edmunds said of Moore’s catch. “He made a lot of them tonight. He gave us a big chance of winning. That’s why he’s here. He does it all the time.”
A week after having their souls harvested by the Broncos, there was a clear sense of relief in the Bears’ locker room. They’d finally broken free of the vicious cycle and could enter a mini-bye with a chance to exhale.
Moore’s touchdown was an aspiration that allowed the Bears to breathe.
“Just relief,” tight end Cole Kmet said.
“A sigh of relief, for sure,” Fields echoed.
Everyone in the Bears’ organization needed Moore’s dagger. But no one more than Fields, who had failed to deliver the game-winning moment when given the chance during the losing streak.
In the Bears’ previous 14 games, Fields had a chance to tie or take the lead in the fourth quarter on 12 drives. The Bears’ offense tied or took the lead on just two of them. Opposing defenses had as many touchdowns as the Bears’ offense during that span.
During the losing streak, Fields has played brilliantly through the first three quarters (20 total TDs, four turnovers) but floundered in the final frame (57 percent completion, six touchdowns, nine turnovers).
He needed this winning moment. For it to come as the capper to an all-time night for Moore made it all the more special for the Bears’ present and potentially their future.
“I’ve been telling him since the first game, ‘Hey, just stay locked in. Keep playing how you are playing. Just stay locked in and don’t let anyone get you out of your zone,’” Mooney said of Fields finally getting over the fourth-quarter hump. “He has been doing that. He looks good. He’s playing good.
“This is Justin Fields, y’all.”
There are no stoppers in the NFL.
If there are, their names are Brady, Mahomes, and Manning. You know the list.
But when the Bears traded for Moore last spring, Thursday night was what they envisioned—someone who can take the pressure off Fields and change everything with the ball in his hands.
“Sometimes the stars just align,” Moore said after the game.
The Bears have been waiting for those stars to line up for 347 days. For opportunity and execution to meet. For things to finally break their way.
With the gravitational gravity of a small planet, Moore made them align. At least for one night, he recalibrated the vibes and momentum around the Bears’ season. He lifted a weight off their chest and delivered the weightless freedom this locker room has long sought.
The Bears are still 1-4. They have a lot of work to do. But the foundation no longer feels like it’s cracking. There’s proof of principle that what they are doing has merit.
As Moore raced down the sideline at FedEx Field, you could see the pressure evaporate from the Bears’ sideline.
Their stopper delivered, strengthening the locker room’s confidence, and clarifying their identity in the process.
“Give the ball to DJ,’ Mooney said, laughing. “Just give the ball to DJ.”
Ground stabilized. Sky no longer falling. Moore’s heroic night in Maryland gave the Bears something that felt worlds away for 347 days. Something can be a potent mixture in the NFL.
Hope and belief.