Mooney, Bears left searching for answers after loss to Commanders


CHICAGO – Darnell Mooney asked for the opportunity that came his way late Thursday night. Be it the football gods, the universe, or a deity of your choice, the Bears' star wide receiver wanted the ball with the game on the line against the Washington Commanders at Soldier Field.

Trailing 12-7 with 42 seconds left and facing a fourth-and-goal at the 4-yard line, Mooney got his wish. He beat his man off the line, and quarterback Justin Fields, who had been pounded all night long by the Commanders' front four, put it on the money.

Mooney rose up over cornerback Benjamin St-Juste and came down with the ball at the pylon. But the game-winning catch, the heroic moment Mooney craved, was not to be. The Bears' receiver bobbled the catch initially. By the time he gained control, he was outside the end zone and had landed out of bounds at the inch line.

The oxygen had been sucked out of Soldier Field.

Final score: Commanders 12, Bears 7.

After the game, Mooney explained that he lost the ball in the lights. Once the ball had been swallowed up, he just tried to grab what he could see -- the lights.

It was clear to anyone in the Bears' locker room Thursday night how heavy that near miss weighed on Mooney.

"At that period of time, I'm literally just telling myself, 'Just please, give me this ball. Give me this ball,'" Mooney said after the loss. "I just got to close the game for us. If I want to be that player, I want to be that guy for our team, I got to make that play."

To be fair, the brutal loss to a bad Washington team was not all on Mooney's shoulders.

The Bears had plenty of chances to win Thursday night. They marched into the red zone three times and came away with zero points. On those three red-zone possessions, the Bears ran 11 plays, gained seven yards, scored zero points, and had one turnover.

But all the red-zone execution woes could have been wiped away if Mooney, who has the weight of the Bears' passing game on his shoulders, did what he knows he's capable of doing.

"If I just catch the damn ball the first time, we win the game," Mooney said.

"I got to be there for my guy, man," Mooney later said of Fields. "He called my number. I just got to be there for him."

Mooney sat at his locker in his uniform for a while after the loss. He re-enacted the catch that wasn't for Dante Pettis, Ihmir Smith-Marsette, and Al-Quadin Muhammad.

Each time Mooney mimicked squeezing the lights that blinded him, he glanced at his hands as if to imagine he'd come down with the catch clean this time.

Mooney finally shed his uniform, slung a towel over his shoulder, and started to walk toward the shower.

But he stopped at Fields' locker.

He talked Fields through what happened and explained how the lights had wiped away the hero moment they'd been grinding toward all offseason.

Mooney sat at Trevor Siemian's empty locker next to Fields, the look in his eyes still one of disbelief. Fields whipped out his phone to show Mooney something, likely a replay of the moment that left the Bears inches short of a much-needed win.

A few minutes later, offensive coordinator Luke Getsy stopped by to talk to the duo at the heart of his attack.
Mooney explained to Getsy what he told Fields, Pettis, and anyone else who was around, almost asking the universe to turn back the clock to give him another chance to battle the luminescence of Soldier Field.

Getsy sat down next to Fields, whispered some words to the young quarterback, hugged him, and headed for the exit.

Fields left it all out on the grass at Soldier Field on Thursday night.

He wasn't perfect. Far from it.

He missed a wide-open Ryan Griffin for a touchdown in the first half and threw a ball off a defensive lineman's helmet in the red zone that ended up being intercepted.

But the Commanders' defensive front hammered the 23-year-old all night long. The second-year signal-caller re-aggravated a left shoulder injury late in the first half after being tattooed at midfield.

He fought through the discomfort and dropped a 40-yard time to Dante Pettis to give the Bears a 7-3 lead in the third quarter. On the game's final drive, Fields rolled left, found a lane, and ripped off a 39-yard run to get the Bears down to the Washington 5-yard line and give Mooney a chance to save the day.

Twitter video experts saw David Montgomery open in the flat on the final play. Fields explained that's his fifth and final read and that there was no reason to throw it to anyone other than Mooney. He's the Bears' No. 1 receiver. He was open.

Fields never had any doubt where he was going with the ball.

"If my boy's open, I got full trust in him," Fields said of Mooney after the loss.

After searching for answers, and maybe absolution, alongside Fields, Mooney finally made the turn toward the showers. Once out of sight, a loud expletive rang out from where Mooney disappeared.

Mooney had yet to re-emerge when the locker room closed. Still searching for the opportunity that he lost in the lights.

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