Despite being plagued by red-zone woes in the first half and turnovers in the second, the Bears still had a chance to rally for a much-needed win over the Chargers on the final play of Sunday’s game at Soldier Field.
But Eddy Piñeiro's 41-yard field-goal attempt drifted wide left as time expired, enabling Los Angeles to escape with a 17-16 victory.
It was another crushing loss for the Bears (3-4), who have now dropped three straight for the first time in Matt Nagy’s two seasons as coach. With the defeat, the defending NFC North champions sunk into last place in the division and matched their loss total from last season.
“Obviously a difficult loss, one that’s tough to swallow, and for a lot of different reasons,” Nagy said. “There are some positives that we can take out of it, but the big negative is that we lost.”
The Bears played much better on both sides of the ball than they had in recent weeks, holding decisive edges over the Chargers in total yards (388-221), first downs (26-11) and time of possession (38:00-22:00).
The Bears led 9-7 at halftime on Piñeiro field goals of 22, 25 and 19 yards. But they settled for the three kicks after failing to get into the end zone after reaching the Chargers’ 4, 9 and 1. On 10 plays inside the 10, the offense was held to 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 2, 0, 1, 0 and 0 yards.
“We just can’t have that happen,” said running back Tarik Cohen. “We can’t sizzle out. We’ve got to continue the energy we have from the field and bring it to the red zone and get touchdowns, not field goals.”
It appeared the red-zone woes were corrected when the Bears opened the second half with an 11-play, 75-yard drive capped by David Montgomery's 4-yard touchdown run that widened the margin to 16-7.
But Mitchell Trubisky, who threw the ball much better than he did in last Sunday’s loss to the Saints, committed costly turnovers on back-to-back possessions after the Chargers had closed to within 16-10 on Chase McLaughlin’s 20-yard field goal late in the third quarter.
Trubisky’s underthrown pass intended for Trey Burton was intercepted by Casey Hayward, who returned it 37 yards to the Bears’ 20. The defense held, however, and McLaughlin missed a 42-yard field-goal try.
But Trubisky followed by losing his grasp of the ball while scrambling in the backfield, and the Chargers recovered his fumble at the Bears’ 26.
“I’ve got to have two hands on the ball when I’m leaving the pocket, when I’m moving in the pocket,” Trubisky said. “I put my hand down, and one second I had it and then I didn’t.”
The Chargers converted the turnover into the go-ahead points as Philip Rivers hit Austin Ekeler with an 11-yard touchdown pass to take a 17-16 lead with 8:04 left in the game.
The Bears’ final opportunity came when they took possession at their own 35 with 1:33 to play and one timeout remaining. Trubisky completed a 22-yard pass to Taylor Gabriel and later scrambled for 11 yards to the Chargers’ 21 with :43 left.
After a Los Angeles timeout, Trubisky took a knee, losing one yard and setting up a 41-yard field-goal attempt that Piñeiro narrowly missed.
“I tried to hit the ball the best I could and play the wind a little bit, but it just didn’t work out,” said Piñeiro, who made 3-of-5 field-goal tries in the game. “It’s a bad feeling. I lost the game for the team. I put that one on me. I have to bounce back.”
The Bears rediscovered their running game in the loss. After rushing for just 17 yards on seven carries a week earlier against the Saints, the ground game produced 162 yards and one TD on 55 carries. Montgomery rushed for a career-high 135 yards on 27 attempts, including a 55-yard run that is the Bears’ longest play from scrimmage of the season.
Trubisky, meanwhile, completed 23 of 35 passes for 253 yards, including gains of 35, 31 and 31 yards.
The Bears defense stepped up as well. The unit held the Chargers to 36 yards rushing on 12 carries after allowing an average of 160 yards on the ground in the previous two games against the Saints and Raiders. The Bears also permitted the Chargers to convert just 2-of-10 third downs.
But it was all for naught as the Bears dropped their third straight game.
“Human nature is it hurts all of us,” Nagy said. “It hurts everybody involved, everybody that likes the Chicago Bears or everybody that plays for the Bears. It pulls at you.
“I just need to make sure that I lead them the right way. I’ve been part of longer [losing streaks] than this, and I’ve seen how it goes when you’re resilient and you share resolve as a team and as a family. It’s a frustrating time right now. You have to accept that. We accept it. But we can’t dwell on it. We need to make sure that we focus, as rough as three losses in a row is, on how do we rally.”