Between Oct. 5, 2023 and Oct. 24, 2022– the dates of their two most recent victories– the Bears had several opportunities to walk away from a game with a win.
There was Nov. 13, 2022 when Justin Fields reeled off a 67-yard touchdown run to give the team a 30-24 lead. But Cairo Santos missed the point-after try, the defense let the Lions march 91 yards down the field to go up one point, and the offense moved backwards on their ensuing two-minute drill.
One week later, the Bears were playing good complementary football against the Falcons by turning takeaways and quick stops into points. But both units ran out of gas at the end and the team ultimately lost by a field goal.
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Of course, last week’s collapse against the Broncos will be remembered for a long time. The Bears came out hot on both sides of the ball and held a 28-7 lead late in the third quarter. But they completely fell apart over the last 19 minutes of the game and lost 31-28, in devastating fashion.
The list goes on, but you get the point. The Bears have had multiple opportunities to eke out a win over the past calendar year, but could never seal the deal. The difference between Thursday night’s victory over the Commanders and every other missed chance: finishing the game strong.
“We’ve gone through adversity, but we’ve learned lessons from that adversity,” said head coach Matt Eberflus. “Those things harden you a little bit. It’s going to be fun going forward.”
Over the 346 days between their two most recent wins, the team talked a lot about needing to learn how to win. If you asked five different players in the locker what they thought it meant to learn how to win, you’d probably get five different answers, that’s how lost at sea the team felt in the thick of the losing streak. To Eberflus, learning how to win meant learning how to execute with the game on the line.
“We’ve just got to do a great job of that in the moment,” Eberflus said after the Week 4 loss to the Broncos. “It’s one play at a time doing your alignment, assignment and executing those plays. Offense and defense.”
That’s exactly what the Bears did to finally secure a victory on Thursday night. Instead of bungling opportunities to put the game away, like they had so many times prior, they continued to execute on offense and defense.
After the Commanders had rallied to make the score 30-20 with nearly 11 minutes left to go in the game, the Bears went three-and-out. Momentum had swung over to the Commanders sideline and the prevailing thought across Bears Nation was probably, “Here we go again.” The defense needed to make a stand to stop the bleeding. They played their typical “bend, don’t break” style and it worked– with a couple breaks going their way. The defense allowed the Commanders to approach the red zone, then got lucky when Sam Howell missed a throw to Jahan Dotson that could’ve been a touchdown. One play later, Tremaine Edmunds came up with a big TFL on Brian Robinson. One more Howell incompletion later, and it was time for Joey Slye to attempt a 46-yard field goal. The Bears got more good fortune and Slye missed.
Previously when teams had made mistakes against the Bears, the Bears weren’t able to capitalize. Further, when the Bears made mistakes, opponents seemed to always find a way to make them pay. On Thursday, the Bears finally took advantage.
The following possession, DJ Moore took a simple 3rd-and-2 hitch and turned it into a 56-yard touchdown. That put the Bears up 37-20 with four minutes to play. When the defense got back on the field they squashed any chances of a Commanders comeback. DeMarcus Walker and Rasheem Green got home for sacks on first and third down to seal the win.
That’s how a team finishes a victory.
Whether or not the team grows from the game remains to be seen. Thursday could end up being a footnote for another bad year. Playoffs seem out of the question at this point, but if the Bears can finish the year like they finished Thursday Night Football they’ll go a long way towards proving they’re on the right developmental track.