CHICAGO -- Every time you think things can't worse for the Bears, they find a way.
The day started off exactly how quarterback Justin Fields and the Bears drew it up. Fields completed his first 16 passes and the Bears roared out to a 28-7 lead early in the third quarter. At the time, Fields was 23-of-24 for 285 yards and four touchdowns.
The resurrection party was on at Soldier Field.
Stay in the game with the latest updates on your beloved Chicago sports teams! Sign up here for our All Access Daily newsletter.
Then, the ghosts came out on the lakefront. Losing 13 games in a row breeds bad habits that are hard to break. Perhaps an exorcism is needed.
Down 21, the Broncos ripped off 24 straight points to stun the Bears 31-28 at Soldier Field.
Fields' brilliant day ended with a fumble that the Broncos returned for a scoop and score and an interception on the final drive of the game.
Here's what we learned in the Bears' 31-28 loss vs. Broncos:
Where has this been?
The Bears' offense has been a discombobulated mess for the first three games. The play-action, bootlegs, and rolled pockets that helped Field succeed late last season were nowhere to be found through the first three games.
But the Bears found the missing play sheets Sunday against a Broncos defense missing two safeties and with a host of issues all over the place.
It was a much-needed elixir for Getsy and Fields.
Fields started the game 16-for-16 for 231 yards and three touchdowns. The opening offensive blitzkrieg included a 29-yard shot play to Moore for a touchdown and a 22-yard dart to a wide-open Cole Kmet down the seam for six.
Fields played free, and the Bears dialed up a game plan that played to his strengths. There was a heavy dose of pre-snap motion and play-action looks that got Moore, Kmet, and Darnell Mooney open against a leaky Broncos secondary.
The Bears' offense scored on their opening drive of the third quarter, as Fields bought time and finally hit Khalil Herbert for a 2-yard touchdown.
Defense shows fight early but leaks late
Down three members of their starting secondary, the Bears' defense looked ripe for the picking against Sean Payton and Russell Wilson. The Broncos breezed 84 yards on 11 plays on their opening drive to take a 7-0 lead. The Broncos targeted linebacker Tremaine Edmunds on the opening drive, taking advantage of some spotty tackling and poor angles to open the scoring.
But the Bears' short-handed defense buckled down after that opening series, allowing just 36 total yards on Denver's final three series of the half.
With starting nickel Kyler Gordon and backup slot corner Josh Blackwell both out, the Bears played a lot of base defense and got great play from SAM linebacker Jack Sanborn. Head coach Matt Eberflus also found ways to dial up pressure, forcing Wilson to get the ball out quickly to his backs and tight ends.
The Bears' defense forced a three-and-out to open the third quarter, allowing the offense to march down the field and take a commanding 28-7 lead.
But the Broncos fought back, and the Bears' defensive shortcomings showed up in the second half as Wilson engineered back-to-back touchdown drives of 65 and 70 yards to bring Denver within seven with 9:36 left.
The Bears re-emerge
The Bears took a commanding 28-7 lead and looked like a completely different team than the one that had been blundering around for three weeks.
But the Bears from the first three weeks re-emerged in the fourth quarter.
After the Broncos drove 65 yards to cut the lead to 28-14, Bears' offense went three-and-out to give Denver the ball back. Wilson then led a 70-yard drive, capped off by a 14-yard rope to Courtland Sutton to cut it to 28-21.
Then, disaster struck.
Fields and the Bears' offense picked up two first downs and appeared ready to salt the game away.
But on first-and-10 from the Broncos' 48, Nik Bonnito tagged Fields and jarred the ball loose. Jonathon Cooper scooped it up and took it back to the house to tie things at 28 with seven minutes to play.
Who wants it?
After the scoop and score tied the game, Fields had a chance to finish a special day with a game-winning drive. But that's not how this day was going to end.
Fields marched the Bears down to the Denver 18-yard line, where they faced a fourth-and-1 with around 3 minutes to go. The Bears opted to go for it, but Khalil Herbert was stuffed for no gain, giving the Broncos a chance to steal a win on the lakefront.
For all their faults, the Broncos still have a future Hall of Famer at quarterback and a future Hall of Fame head coach. On the first play from scrimmage, Wilson dropped back and hit Marvin Mims for 47 yards into Bears territory. The Bears' defense would bow up and hold Denver to a 51-yard field goal that gave the Broncos a 31-28 lead with 1:46 left.
Fields got one more chance to play hero and get the game to overtime, but he was picked off by Kareem Jackson on third-and-13 to seal a heartbreaking loss for the Bears.
Fields finished the day 28-for-35 for 335 yards, four touchdowns, and one interception. It was a brilliant performance by the Bears' starting quarterback, but one that lacked the plays needed late to secure a win.