After struggling early, the Bears defense appeared to right the ship against the Lions Sunday at Soldier Field before ultimately sinking again.
The unit opened the second half by forcing punts on three straight possessions for the first time since Oct. 13 against the Commanders. But the Lions rallied with two touchdowns on offense and a third on a pick-six to turn a 24-10 fourth-quarter deficit into a 31-30 win.
It was the first time in Bears history that they lost a home game after leading by 14 or more points in the final period.
"We've got to finish," said safety Eddie Jackson. "We had a 14-point lead. We've got to stay on top. We have to execute, just go out there and do our job. We've got to execute and we've got to trust in our players."
Leading 24-10 early in the fourth quarter, it appeared that the Bears had sealed the win when rookie linebacker Jack Sanborn intercepted a Jared Goff pass at the Chicago 8. But a hands-to-the-face penalty on Jaylon Johnson negated the takeaway. On the next play, DeAndre Swift's 9-yard TD run closed the gap to 24-17.
On the Bears' ensuing possession, Justin Fields floated a short pass over intended target Cole Kmet and the ball was intercepted by cornerback Jeff Okudah, who returned it 20 yards for a TD, tying the game 24-24.
The Bears took a 30-24 lead on Fields' dazzling 67-yard TD run, but Cairo Santos followed with a missed extra point that proved costly. Taking over at their own 9 with 5:23 to play, Detroit marched 91 yards on eight plays capped by Jamaal Williams' 1-yard TD run—and Michael Badgley's decisive extra point—with 2:29 left.
"It's crazy," Jackson said. "I feel like we didn't affect the game as much as we should on defense. We've just got to find a way to change that. There were some big plays they put up."
In the last three games, the Bears defense has permitted 13 touchdowns, 1,144 yards, 19-of-32 third-down conversions and 11 TDs on 15 red-zone possessions.
Bright spot: Kmet had another outstanding day, catching four passes for 74 yards and two touchdowns. His scores came on back-to-back drives in the third quarter, turning a 10-10 deadlock into a 24-10 lead.
The first TD came when Fields faked a handoff on a read option and found Kmet in the end zone for a 6-yard score.
Kmet's second TD came on a 50-yarder when he slipped into the secondary and was wide open down the field.
"Crazy thing is on that touchdown, I think we ran that route after practice like three times Wednesday and Thursday and we missed every one," Fields said. "It was kind of cool to see us connect on that one."
Kmet has now caught five TD passes in his last three games after catching two TDs in his first 40 career contests.
"Cole is getting better each and every week I think with his route running, and he works hard day-in and day-out," Fields said. "Definitely happy for him the way he's growing and the way he's continuing to improve each and every week."
Man in the middle: After excelling in his first NFL start last weekend against the Dolphins, Sanborn performed at an even higher level Sunday.
The Wisconsin product recorded a team-leading 12 tackles and the Bears' only two sacks, becoming the NFL's first undrafted rookie with multiple sacks in a game this season.
"If we go way back and look at the preseason, you saw what kind of player he was," said coach Matt Eberflus. "He's very instinctual, makes a lot of plays on the ball, always reads his keys. He's always on it that way. We're pleased with where he's going."
Unfortunately for the Bears, Sanborn's most impressive play was wiped out by a penalty. The rookie backtracked and leaped to pick off Goff's pass intended for Swift over the middle.
"We were preparing for that route a little bit all week," Sanborn said. "I was helping Nick [Morrow] on the inside in case they ran an angle route. The back took it more vertical than we originally thought."
Instead of the Bears having the ball deep in their own territory with a two-touchdown lead, the Lions scored on the next play to close the gap to 24-17.
"It's obviously tough," Sanborn said. "It's tough for not [just] me but the entire team. It could have been a big moment, but it wasn't meant to be. That stuff happens in football. You've got to move on."
Lesson learned: Fields regretted throwing the screen pass to Kmet that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown.
"Just a dumb play," Fields said. "I can assure you that will never happen again for the rest of my career. Screen, being sifted out, tried to move him a little bit and tried to float it over to Cole and just overthrew it. Just got to dirt it and play the next play."
Crucial miss: Santos made his only field-goal attempt of the game from 33 yards, extending his streak to 20 in a row, including all 14 he's tried this season. But he missed an extra point for the first time since kicking in monsoon-like conditions in Week 1, pushing his attempt wide left after the Bears had broken a 24-24 tie on Fields' 67-yard TD dash.
"I'll have to watch the film and make the corrections I need to make," Santos said. "Sometimes it happens. I've just got to see what went wrong. How the ball flew, something tells me that something in the operation [was off]. It comes down to me trusting everything and going through it."
On the shelf: Right guard Teven Jenkins (hip), defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad (knee) and cornerback Kindle Vildor (ankle) sat out Sunday's game with injuries. Michael Schofield III started in place of Jenkins, while Dominique Robinson replaced Muhammad.
Receiver Byron Pringle returned to action after missing six games with a calf injury he sustained in a Week 3 win over the Texans, catching one pass for 12 yards. Veteran receiver Chase Claypoolhad one reception for eight yards.
This and that: Khalil Herbert's 50-yard kickoff return was the Bears' longest of the season and matched his career long, set on his first NFL touch on the opening kickoff of last year's season opener … After failing to record a tackle-for-loss last weekend against the Dolphins, the Bears defense registered eight Sunday—three by Morrow, two by Sanborn and Justin Jones and one by Armon Watts … In losing for the sixth time in seven games since a 2-1 start, the Bears (3-7) slipped into last place in the NFC North … The Lions snapped a 13-game road winless streak. Detroit had gone 0-12-1 since its last road victory, a 34-30 decision over the Bears Dec. 6, 2020 at Soldier Field.
See all of the game action unfold from behind the lens in Chicago as the Bears take on the Lions at Soldier Field during Week 10 of the regular season.