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4 things to watch in Bears-Falcons game

Bears quarterback Justin Fields
Bears quarterback Justin Fields

The Bears (3-7) will look to snap a three-game losing streak when they visit the Falcons (4-6) Sunday in Atlanta. Here are four storylines to follow in the game:

(1) What will Justin Fields do next?

The electrifying second-year pro followed one historic performance with another the past two weeks, demonstrating his rare combination of size, strength and speed. Fields rushed for 178 yards against the Dolphins—the most by a quarterback in an NFL regular-season game—and then ran for 147 yards versus the Lions. The 325 yards are the most by a quarterback in any two-game span in league history.

Fields also became the first Bears player with at least 147 yards on the ground in back-to-back games since Hall of Fame running back Walter Payton in 1984.

All eyes no doubt will be on Fields Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium to see what he'll do for an encore against a Falcons defense that ranks 31st in the NFL in total yards, 18th against the run and 32nd versus the pass.

Over the past month, the former Ohio State star has displayed his tantalizing dual-threat ability; in four games since the Bears' mini bye, Fields has rushed for 467 yards and five TDs on 50 carries and thrown for 620 yards with eight TDs, two interceptions and a 103.5 passer rating.

Not that he needs any additional motivation, but Sunday's contest in Atlanta will be a home game of sorts for Fields, who was a Falcons fan while growing up in nearby Kennesaw, Ga. He attended games with his father, who had season tickets. Several relatives and friends are expected to be on hand Sunday, including his parents.

(2) Will the Bears defense be able to stop the Falcons running game?

Like the Bears, the Falcons offense is powered by a strong rushing attack. Atlanta's ground game ranks fourth in the NFL, averaging 160.4 yards per game. The Falcons are the league's only team that has four rushers with at least 347 yards: Running backs Tyler Allgeier (102 carries for 443 yards), Cordarrelle Patterson (76-402) and Caleb Huntley (69-331) and quarterback Marcus Mariota (63-347).

"[They're] explosive in the run game," said Bears defensive coordinator Alan Williams. "They do what they do well, which is run to the sideline, try to get on your edges, perimeter blocking. [They have] three, four really good runners in the running backs and the quarterbacks, so we are definitely going to have our hands full this weekend."

The Bears run defense ranks 28th in the NFL, yielding an average of 142.0 yards per game. But after getting gashed for 200 yards by the Cowboys, the unit permitted just 77 and 95 yards on the ground to the Dolphins and Lions, respectively.

The Bears are hoping for another impressive performance by undrafted rookie Jack Sanborn, who is slated to make his third straight start at middle linebacker. Against Detroit, the Wisconsin product registered a team-leading 12 tackles, his first two NFL sacks and an interception that was negated by a penalty.

(3) Will the Bears do a better job of finishing late in the game?

Fields has fueled an offensive explosion of late; the Bears have averaged 31.0 points over their last four games, exactly double the 15.5 points they averaged over their first six contests. But they lost their last two games to the Dolphins 35-32 and Lions 31-30 after failing to score on their final possession.

Since edging the Texans 23-20 on Cairo Santos' 30-yard field goal as time expired in Week 3, the Bears have dropped five straight one-score games, also falling to the Giants 20-12, Vikings 29-22 and Commanders 12-7.

Asked what he wants the offense to accomplish the rest of the season, Fields said: "Just keep improving, keep putting points up on the board."

"I think we've done that over the past few weeks," he said. "But the main thing is when we get those opportunities at the end of a game, just to finish those off. Those two-minute drives, coach [Matt Eberflus] pulled up a stat that we are the best team in the league when it comes to those end of half, two-minutes drives, on offense and defense. So, we just want to translate that to the end of the game."

The Bears' 38 points in the fourth quarter this season are their fewest in any period. Learning to finish would be beneficial for multiple reasons.

"One, you want to win, right?" said offensive coordinator Luke Getsy. "It feels better to win for sure, so that's important. And then the second part is just it gets confidence in everybody, believing in themselves, believing they can do it."

(4) Will the Bears start generating more takeaways?

The Bears produced at least one takeaway in their first five games of the season, but they've failed to record any in three of their last five contests, including the last two weeks against the Dolphins and Lions. 

"It's as important as winning, because we equate the turnovers to victory and the turnovers to winning the football game," Williams said. "So the more you are in the plus in the takeaway margin, the higher the percentages are that you're winning football games. So, taking the football away, it is everything.

"What you do is you keep emphasizing them in practice, you emphasize them in meetings, you emphasize them in how you do things."

This season the Bears are 2-0 with a positive turnover differential, 0-3 with a negative ratio and 1-4 when it's even. They've generated eight takeaways in their three wins and only five in their seven losses. 

Interestingly, the Bears and Falcons both have 13 takeaways and 13 giveaways this season. Since Week 4, Atlanta has produced eight takeaways in four home games and none in three road contests.

The Bears practiced among the flurries at Halas Hall Wednesday afternoon as they get ready for Sunday's matchup with the Falcons in Atlanta.

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