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Darnell Mooney sparked Bears offense with sensational catch

Bears receiver Darnell Mooney
Bears receiver Darnell Mooney

The Bears offense was slumbering through the first half Sunday in Minnesota when Darnell Mooney provided a much-needed wakeup call.

The third-year receiver leaped over cornerback Chandon Sullivan and made an outstanding one-handed catch of a Justin Fields pass for a 39-yard gain to the Vikings' 11. Three plays later, David Montgomery's 9-yard touchdown run drew the Bears to within 21-10 with 1:08 left in the half.

"[Fields] threw the ball up," Mooney said. "It was in my vicinity. I feel like if it's in my vicinity, whether it's two hands or one hand, I've got to catch the ball. We needed a spark. It was pretty dry for us out there."

Fields didn't see Mooney's catch until after the game.

"Just thought he went up with two [hands] and grabbed it and made a contested catch," Fields said. "After seeing the video of it, that was a great catch by him and a great play, great protection, great all around."

Mooney's sensational grab generated momentum that the Bears carried into the second half, scoring on their first three possessions in rallying to take a 22-21 lead in an eventual 29-22 loss.

"A big play like that before the end of the first half, it set us up for that touchdown," Fields said. "It definitely gave us a lot of momentum."

"Any time you get explosive plays on offense, that's a spark," added coach Matt Eberflus. "I think that was definitely a confidence builder for sure."

Aggressive mentality

Bears players lauded Eberflus for making aggressive decisions in Sunday's game. In the second half, the Bears attempted a two-point conversion and a surprise onside kick and kept their offense on the field for a crucial fourth-and-4 play.

After Velus Jones Jr.'s 9-yard TD reception from Fields on the opening possession of the second half closed the gap to 21-16, the Bears attempted a two-point conversion. Unfortunately, receiver Dante Pettis was tackled immediately after catching a short pass.

The Bears followed with a surprise onside kick, but Minnesota recovered. The Vikings did not score on their subsequent drive, however, as Dominique Robinson deflected Greg Joseph's 51-yard field goal attempt.

"I love that about [Bears coaches]," said kicker Cairo Santos. "We come up with ideas during the week. It's exciting for us because we don't see a doubt of concern of, 'OK, what if we don't get it?' We think so much on the positive of what could come out of it and we execute it well during the week. I thought it was a good kick. They made a great reaction off of it. It would have been sweet to get that."

"We practiced it all week," Eberflus added. "I told the entire defense, I said 'listen, we're going for this. There is a chance we don't get it. But listen, I want you to respond to this if we don't get it. Sudden change, you respond to it. They all did. They rose up there and they ended up blocking a field goal. To me it was really a wash right there. We got them basically on downs right there with the blocked field goal."

Trailing 21-16 late in the third quarter, Eberflus kept the offense on the field on fourth-and-4 from the Vikings 37. Fields picked up a first down with a 7-yard scramble, setting up Santos' 43-yard field goal.

"Love [Eberflus'] confidence in us," Mooney said, "how he trusts us and just love his aggressiveness. I appreciate it as a player for sure."

Tough day at the office

Sunday was an unhappy homecoming for former Vikings receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette, who made two costly miscues against the team that selected him in the fifth round of the 2021 draft out of Iowa.

First, Smith-Marsette was flagged for an illegal block above the waist that nullified Fields' spectacular 52-yard touchdown run. And then with the Bears driving for a potential game-tying TD, Minnesota cornerback Cameron Dantzler ripped the ball away from Smith-Marsette from behind at the end of a 15-yard reception with 1:01 remaining to seal the Vikings victory.

"Obviously we need to get out of bounds there," Eberflus said. "We tell the players when they're on the numbers or wider to get out of bounds. If you're inside the numbers, get north. That's just a simple function of two-minute mechanics. We have to do that better."

Riding a rollercoaster

It was an up-and-down day for the Bears defense. The unit allowed the Vikings to score touchdowns on their first three possessions to take a 21-3 lead, held Minnesota scoreless on its next four series but then permitted a game-winning 17-play, 75-yard TD drive. 

After Santos' 51-yard field goal gave the Bears their first lead of the game at 22-21, the Vikings took over at their own 25 with 9:26 to play. Minnesota marched the length of the field, converting 5-of-5 third-down plays including Kirk Cousins' 1-yard TD dive on third-and-goal. 

"We just have to finish and give ourselves a chance right there," Eberflus said. "To me, that would be the defense getting a stop on one of those third downs in that drive. We've got to stop them there and make them kick a field goal. 

"They executed. They did a nice job. Give credit to them. We had a third-and-4, we had a third-and-8. We've got to win those downs, got to win the matchup, either if it's the front getting pressure or the coverage breaking up the pass. It's one of those two things."

Watch the Bears' Week 5 matchup against the Minnesota Vikings unfold through the lenses of our sideline photographers at U.S. Bank Stadium.