The Bears lost their third straight game Sunday, falling to 3-7 with a 27-24 defeat to the Detroit Lions at Soldier Field. Here are three things that stood out in the Week 11 game:
(1) While another narrow loss was disappointing, rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky clearly took another positive step in his development.
With the Bears once again mired in last place, this season has become all about Trubisky becoming the player the team envisioned when they traded up to select him with the second overall pick in the draft. On Sunday, the rookie displayed more signs of progress, fitting passes into tight windows, running for chunks of yardage and making clutch plays down the stretch.
Two of Trubisky's most impressive throws both resulted in completions to fellow rookie Adam Shaheen—first a 22-yarder over the middle and then a 1-yard touchdown. The tight end was well-covered on both plays, but Trubisky put the ball where only his teammate could catch it. Trubisky also operated the read-option effectively, keeping the ball on a few occasions after reading the defensive end and picking up key first downs to sustain drives.
Trubisky saved his best for last. He put the Bears in position to tie the game in the final seconds by effectively engineering a two-minute drill. On the last two plays before Connor Barth missed a 46-yard field goal attempt, Trubisky scrambled for 19 yards on fourth-and-13 and followed with a 15-yard completion to receiver Dontrelle Inman.
Trubisky certainly wasn't perfect; he lost a fumble that was returned for a touchdown in the second quarter and threw a near interception on the final drive. But some growing pains are expected for a rookie quarterback and the Bears are confident that he'll learn from his mistakes.
(2) The Bears got rookie running back Tarik Cohen more involved in their offense like he was earlier in the season and the dynamic fourth-round pick responded.
Labeled the top playmaker on the Bears offense by coordinator Dowell Loggains about a month ago, Cohen had just eight total touches in the team's previous three games against the Panthers, Saints and Packers. But that changed Sunday as Cohen rushed for 44 yards and one touchdown on nine carries and caught four passes for 15 yards.
"I mentioned last week touches are hard to contribute, but that's definitely something that we can control, as far as his play time," said coach John Fox. "I think he was at 30 [snaps] versus 11 from one week to the next. I think our staff does an outstanding job involving guys, even in his case, because he lines up and plays running back as well as receiver."
Cohen displayed his quickness, speed and playmaking ability when he took a pitch from Trubisky, sprinted around left end and flipped over Lions safety Glover Quin near the goal line, landing just inside the pylon for a 15-yard touchdown that tied the score 24-24 with 5:02 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Although there's only one ball, Cohen's increased involvement in the game plan did not negatively affect Jordan Howard. The second-year pro rushed for 125 yards and one TD on 15 carries with a long run of 50 yards that set up Trubisky's touchdown pass to Shaheen.
(3) Continuing a negative trend, the Bears once again failed to make the plays necessary to win late in the game.
Each of the Bears' last four losses has been by one score; they've dropped games to the Vikings 20-17, Saints 20-12, Packers 23-16 and Lions 27-24. The common theme in those narrow losses is that they didn't execute when the game was on the line.
It happened again Sunday after Cohen's acrobatic TD run tied the game 24-24 with 5:02 to play. Needing a defensive stand, the Bears instead allowed the Lions to march 42 yards on nine plays and ultimately take a 27-24 lead on Matt Prater's 52-yard field goal with 1:35 remaining. The key play on the drive came when cornerback Cre'von LeBlanc slipped to the ground, enabling Matthew Stafford to complete a 26-yard pass to a wide open Eric Ebron.
"It's always frustrating losing," Cohen said. "It adds to that when you're right on the fringe of being a successful team more times than not. A couple games we've lost have come right down to the wire. We know that if we do certain things right, the game comes out totally different."
Against the Vikings, Trubisky threw a late interception with the score tied 17-17 that set up Kai Forbath's game-winning 26-yard field goal with :12 remaining. The Bears had two chances to take the lead or tie the Saints in the final 2:00, but they turned the ball over on downs and a Trubisky interception. The Bears had a chance to force overtime against the Packers late but turned the ball over on downs at their own 43 with :28 to play.