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Bears' red-zone woes prove costly in loss

Bears quarterback Justin Fields
Bears quarterback Justin Fields

Frustration and disappointment were palpable in the Bears locker room after the offense failed to score any points on three possessions inside the Washington 5-yard line in Thursday night's 12-7 loss to the Commanders at Soldier Field.

"A lot of guys are hurting in here," tight end Ryan Griffin said after the Bears dropped their third straight game to fall to 2-4. "When you're that close, we've got to find a way to punch it in, period. That's it."

On their second possession of the game, the Bears marched to the Commanders' 5. But quarterback Justin Fields' pass over the middle intended for Cole Kmet deflected high in the air off the helmet of end Efe Obada and was intercepted by tackle Jonathan Allen.

"Sometimes your arm angle changes because he's trying to fit it in there," said coach Matt Eberflus. "There's a lot of big bodies in there, so a lot of times you will change your arm angle based on what window you see in front of you.

"You can't fault him on that. He was trying to fit it in there and that's just what happened. We've got to do a good job when the ball goes up, somebody has got to do a good job of knocking it down, someone that's in the vicinity there."

Khalil Herbert's 64-yard run later helped the Bears reach the Washington 3. After Herbert was stopped for no gain, Fields overthrew a wide open Griffin in the corner of the end zone. Fields scrambled for two yards on third down and Herbert was stopped for no gain on fourth-and-and goal from the 1.

"Comes down to execution," Eberflus said. "I thought we had some real good plays in there. When we have the play on, hit the guys in the open, like for Griffin there. I thought that was an excellent play."

The futility continued late in the game. Trailing 12-7 after Joey Slye missed a 48-yard field goal attempt, the Bears took over at their own 38 with 1:49 to play. Fields completed a 13-yard pass to David Montgomery on third-and-5 and then scrambled for 39 yards to the Washington 5 with :52 left.

But the Bears failed on four plays to score the go-ahead touchdown. Fields scrambled for one yard on first down and had his pass intended for Mooney in the right flat deflected by defensive end James Smith-Williams on second-and-goal.

On third-and-goal from the 4, Fields found Dante Pettis in the back of the end zone. Safety Darrick Forrest grabbed Pettis' arm before the ball arrived and broke up the pass, but no penalty was called, much to the chagrin of the partisan Soldier Field crowd.

Asked whether a pass interference penalty had been committed, Pettis said: "I mean, yeah, it felt like it. I didn't see the replay, but yeah."

On fourth-and-goal from the 4, Fields looked to Mooney, who ran a post-corner route. Leaping in the air, Mooney initially juggled the ball before securing it—but he was tackled just short of the goal line.

See all of the game action unfold from behind the lens in Chicago as the Bears battle the Commanders at Soldier Field on Thursday Night Football.

After the game, Mooney revealed that he bobbled the ball because he lost it in the lights for an instant.

"I won the route," he said. "Biggest thing [is] I've got to make the first catch. Saw the ball in the beginning, kind of lost it in the lights and just tried to catch the light. Just couldn't see it.

"But at the end of the day [in] that period of time, I'm literally talking to myself like, 'please give me this ball, give me this ball.' I've 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've got to make that play, for sure. Just catch the damn ball the first time and we win the game."

The Bears' only touchdown came on a beautiful 40-yard rainbow from Fields to Pettis midway through the third quarter. Noticing that a defender was slow to leave the field, Fields had the ball snapped quickly to draw a penalty on the Commanders, giving the Bears a free play.

"That was awesome," Eberflus said. "We've been trying to pull that off these first few games, and we did. Man, what a throw. We all know he's a great deep ball thrower and he threw right in there and Dante had a great catch and execution."

Pettis made a nice over-the-shoulder grab to give the Bears a 7-3 lead.

"It was a really good throw," Pettis said. "We saw they were substituting, caught them with 12 men on the field, had a free play and Justin just launched it."

Unfortunately, that was the Bears' only trip into the end zone. They compiled a season-high 392 total yards, but because of their red-zone woes, they were held to their lowest point total since last Oct. 24 in a 38-3 loss to the Buccaneers in Tampa.

"When the play is there, make it," Fields said. "There is no logistics. It's not complicated. It's when you have that opportunity, finish. It's that simple. We just didn't do that tonight. You don't have to make it harder than it is, pitch and catch.

"The one that's making me mad is the one to 'Griff' in the end zone. He probably could have ran a little bit more, but he's wide open. I've got to hit that. I'm an NFL quarterback. I've got to hit that."