Justin Fields

What we learned about Justin Fields, Bears in inexplicable meltdown loss vs. Browns

The Bears had a win in their grasp in Cleveland on Sunday, but a fourth-quarter meltdown flushed a win and their playoff hopes down the drain

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CLEVELAND, Ohio -- For the second time in a month, the Bears outplayed their opponent for three-plus quarters and appeared to have a win in hand.

But for the second time in four games, the Bears fell apart in the final quarter.

The Bears' defense dominated the Cleveland Browns for most of Sunday afternoon's game at Cleveland Browns stadium. The Bears picked off Flacco three times and led 17-7 entering the closing stanza.

But just as they did in Detroit, the Bears stepped on rake after rake in the final quarter, allowing the Browns to outscore them 13-0 to lose 20-17 and fall to 5-9 on the season.

Quarterback Justin Fields and the offense struggled against the NFL's best defense. The Bears' offense gained just 236 yards and went 4-for-17 on third down.

Fields finished the game 19-for-40 for 168 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions (both on Hail Mary attempts). The play-calling left a lot to be desired, the offensive line struggled, and the Bears' playmakers struggled to get open against a talented Browns secondary.

The Bears had a miracle, Hail Mary win on the tips of Darnell Mooney's fingers, but the receiver bobbled the game-winning catch and kicked it into the hands of Browns safety D'Anthony Bell to seal the Bears' fat

Here's what we learned in the Bears' 20-17 meltdown loss in Cleveland.

Special Justin Fields arrives

After the two teams traded punts for the entire first quarter, the Bears' defense got Chicago into scoring position when safety Eddie Jackson picked off Flacco and returned it to the Cleveland 1-yard line.

What followed wasn't the prettiest goal-line sequence.

After two failed runs and multiple penalties on both teams, the Bears found themselves facing a third-and-goal from the 5-yard line.

Browns edge rusher Myles Garrett beat left tackle Braxton Jones off the snap and had a clean shot at sacking Fields to force a field goal. But Fields somehow got out of Garrett's grasp and broke out of the pocket to the left. Fields scanned the field and rifled a dot to tight end Cole Kmet in the back of the end zone to draw first blood.

Big loss

Sunday was the Bears' fourth straight game with their starting offensive line intact.

But that group suffered a big loss in the second quarter Sunday when left guard Teven Jenkins left the game with an injury. Jenkins was helped to the sideline with the help of the Bears' training staff and loaded onto a cart. He was ruled out with a concussion.

Veteran guard Cody Whitehair, who was benched when Nate Davis returned in Week 11, took over for Jenkins.

The defensive vision materializes

When the Bears signed Tremaine Edmunds and T.J. Edwards this offseason, they did so with a vision of having two top-tier linebackers, with skills that mesh well, anchor their defense for the foreseeable future.

That vision has started to become a reality over the last month, and a play early in the third quarter crystallized it.

With the game deadlocked at seven, Flacco dropped back and threw a pass to wide receiver Cedric Tillman over the middle of the field. Edwards arrived at the same time as the ball and drilled Tillman. The ball popped into the air and into the hands of Edmunds, who raced 45 yards the other way to give the Bears a 14-7 lead.

Edwards has had a tremendous first season in Chicago, and Edmunds has settled in and started to deliver the game-changing turnovers the Bears envisioned since the arrival of Montez Sweat in Week 9.

The Bears also have big plans for rookie cornerback Tyrique Stevenson. Stevenson took his lump early on but has responded during the second half of the season to play some really good football.

He delivered the marquee play of his rookie season Sunday, even if it gets lost in the meltdown.

A muffed punt by Trent Taylor in the third quarter gave the Browns some life and the ball inside the red zone. But Stevenson quickly stamped out the drive with a sensational play.

Flacco dropped back at the Bears' 20-yard line and had Njoku wide open up the seam. Flacco let it fly, but Stevenson came over to make a diving interception and turn the Browns away.

Defense cracks

The Bears' defense dominated for most of Sunday but cracked down the stretch.

Trailing 17-10, Flacco dropped back at midfield and hit wide receiver Amari Cooper downfield for a big gain. Brisker and cornerback Terell Smith ran into each other trying to make the tackle, and Cooper slithered free for a 51-yard, game-tying touchdown.

No winning magic

With the game suddenly tied at 17, Fields and the Bears' offense had a chance to wipe away a disappointing day at the office.

It was not to be had.

The Bears quickly went three-and-out on offense, asking their defense to bail them out and send the game to overtime.

But the defensive magic that carried the Bears through the first three-and-a-half quarters ran dry as Flacco found Njoku for a gain of 34 on third-and-15 to set up a go-ahead field goal.

Fields and the Bears offense had 32 seconds to get into field goal range. Fields hit Tyler Scott for a gain of 30 yards to the Browns' 45-yard line.

Out of kicker Cairo Santos' range, Fields and the Bears' offense had a Hail Mary attempt that looked like it would deliver a miracle win. The ball traveled through the Ohio air, was batted around in the end zone, and dropped into the lap of Darnell Mooney.

But Mooney bobbled it, and his toe kicked it up in the air and into the hands of safety D'Anthony Bell to end the game.

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