Darnell Mooney

Darnell Mooney's new mantra will be key to wide receiver, Bears achieving season dreams

Darnell Mooney has been quiet through five games, but both he and the Bears are confident his numbers will come. The receiver's new mantra can fuel that breakthrough

NBC Universal, Inc.

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- In 2021, Darnell Mooney caught 81 passes for 1,054 yards, seemingly announcing himself as a future centerpiece of the Bears' offense.

A new regime entered in 2022 and asked Mooney to carry a wide receiver room filled with journeymen, castoffs, and a rookie. Offensive coordinator Luke Getsy and wide receivers coach Tyke Tolbert asked Mooney to learn the X, Z, and F responsibilities in the offense and be able to transition between them on a down-to-down basis. It was a complex ask but one Mooney felt comfortable undertaking.

The Bears' passing attack struggled in 2022 and Mooney caught just 40 passes for 493 yards before suffering a season-ending ankle injury.

The 2023 season was supposed to be the year head coach Matt Eberflus and Getsy fully unlock Mooney, getting him back to the 1,000-yard receiver he was in 2021. Playing alongside star wide receiver DJ Moore and the now recently-departed Chase Claypool was supposed to free Mooney up.

But through five games, Mooney has caught just eight passes for 104 yards and one touchdown. He failed to catch a pass in three of the Bears' five games.

Which begs the question: Why has this Bears regime been unable to help Mooney be Mooney?

"We’re a work in progress still," Eberflus said. "We’re not gonna close the books on that. We’ve got a lot of ball to play. Shoot, we’ve got a lot of games to play. We certainly want to highlight Mooney, and we’re gonna continue to do that, and we’re gonna continue to take shots to him. He’s a big part of our package, and we’re excited about where he is.

“I would just say that we’re really just working through it," Eberflus continued later. "We’re still obviously hopeful we’re going to see those things — and we’re going to. We’re gonna take the shots to him. He’s gonna get his looks. He’s gonna get his shots. And we’re gonna see it coming forward.”

Tolbert acknowledged the Bears ask a lot of Mooney but noted they plan to tailor the receiver's workload back from knowing three positions to just two, hoping that will free him up.

"I think him being probably more settled in maybe two positions now instead of three, I think he can concentrate better on that," Tolbert said. "I think that can work out better for him and for us."

Mooney doesn't believe the mental workload is too much. He has been asked to know all the roles in every offense he has played, dating back to his college days at Tulane.

The fourth-year wide receiver, who is in a contract season, doesn't view himself as a "work in progress" in the Bears' offense. He sees his lack of production through five games as a product of game flow and not taking advantage of the few opportunities that have come his way.

"I feel like it’s going to come," Mooney told NBC Sports Chicago and the Chicago Sun-Times. "I feel like I had some opportunities within the last game. They were minimal opportunities, but they were opportunities I just got to make the most out of."

Mooney believes he should have made several catches during the Bears' 40-20 Week 5 win over the Washington Commanders at FedEx Field. His timing with quarterback Justin Fields was a little off on a game-opening deep ball, but Mooney said he should have adjusted and made the grab. There was a could-have-been touchdown negated due to an uncalled pass interference. The NFL later told the Bears the refs missed the call.

Missed call or not, Mooney knows he needs to come down with the catch. It's that mentality that will fuel him for the remainder of a critical season, both for him and the Bears.

"My biggest thing now for the rest of the season is just find a way," Mooney said. "Whatever it is, just find a way."

A big part of finding a way for Mooney will be discovering how best to work off Moore. Moore exploded for eight catches, 230 yards, and four touchdowns against the Commanders, while Mooney put up a goose egg.

Mooney admitted it's "frustrating" when he doesn't impact the game but maintained that winning matters more than numbers.

"Statistics get you paid. That's the only thing they do," Mooney said. "If you're getting the ball or I get 1,000 yards, 10 touchdowns, whatever, that's the only thing that matters within statistics.  But at the end of the day, our job is to get the win, and I'm happy to get it."

Statistics do get you paid. For a guy in a contract year, those numbers will start taking on greater importance, whether they come or not.

The contract is on Mooney's mind. He's human, and his financial future will be on his mind. But it won't consume him. He's confident that if the wins come, the stats will come, and the contract he wants will follow.

"It's going to happen," Mooney said. "Eventually, I'll get what I deserve. So I really want to get paid. At the end of the day, it's about winning."

The Bears are hopeful the win over Washington can be the start of something -- that the Commanders win can be a dam-breaking victory, allowing the Ws to come flooding in.

The Bears need the best version of Darnell Mooney for that belief to become reality.

As has been the case with most aspects of the 2023 Bears, there's confidence that small daily progress will lead to big changes.

Mooney and the Bears believe the stats and wins will come.

That belief is rooted in the conceptual, not in substance. It's a feeling.

One they both have to find a way to make tangible if they don't want the season, and all that might come with it, to slip away.

Click here to follow the Under Center Podcast.

Contact Us