Receiver Velus Jones Jr. delivered his best performance of what's been a challenging rookie season in Saturday's 35-13 loss to the Bills at Soldier Field.
The third-round pick from Tennessee showed his speed and explosiveness on kickoff returns of 40 and 43 yards in the first quarter and a 44-yard reception of a Justin Fields pass on the final play of the third period.
"It felt good just to help my team out," Jones said. "Those guys were blocking their tails off on the kickoff. They've been doing it all year, so without them that wouldn't be possible. It feels good to help your team any kind of way."
Jones has struggled hanging onto the ball this year; he has committed three turnovers on two muffed punts earlier this season and one lost fumble on a reception last week against the Eagles. But he took advantage of his opportunities Saturday on offense and special teams. Jones, who entered the game with four catches for 27 yards this season, had two receptions for 52 yards.
"Was really pleased with Velus today," said coach Matt Eberflus. "He did a very nice job on the kick returns and also that really big catch. It was good for him to bounce back from last week and did a really nice job with that."
Jones' 44-yard reception was the game's longest play from scrimmage. It came when he split cornerbacks Tre'Davious White and Kaiir Elam and made a sliding catch at the Bills' 23.
"When they were in the quarters coverage, I knew the ball was coming to me," Jones said. "So, I stemmed the corner, knew I wanted to keep it high. The wind carried the ball a little. It went across the field. I just had to go get it."
Frigid conditions: The temperature at kickoff Saturday was nine degrees, with winds of 26 miles per hour dropping the wind chill to minus-12. The temperature was the fifth coldest and the wind chill tied for the third coldest for a Bears home game since 1963.
"It was crazy," Fields said. "It really impacted the whole game, from snaps to even tosses ... D-Mo (running back David Montgomery) had to lock in on the tosses, they were flying everywhere. The snaps, they were going everywhere.
"[The wind] definitely impacts the passing game with trying to figure out which way you want to throw the ball, like which way the wind is blowing it. You just have to think about all those things when you're of course calling plays and stuff like that."
Saturday was the coldest game the Bears have played at Soldier Field since Dec. 22, 2008, when it was eight degrees with a wind chill of nine below in a win over the Cowboys.
"It was the coldest I've played in," said tight end Cole Kmet. "Crazy wind. You get gusts at times. It was a game where you've really got to run the ball effectively. Cold conditions, but something you've got to deal with when you're playing here."
Kmet caught a game-high five passes for 27 yards after dropping the first ball thrown in his direction.
"It was tough," he said. "You've just got to make sure you're locking the ball in and focus on the catch first. I dropped that one early in the game. It was just about securing the catch and worry about the yards after that maybe a little bit later. But securing that football was key today."
Slow going: The Bears entered Week 16 ranked No. 1 in the NFL in rushing, averaging 186.9 yards per game. On Saturday, they were held to 80 yards and 2.8 yards per carry. It was their second fewest yards in a game this season and the first time they didn't compile at least 127 yards on the ground since Week 5 when they were limited to 78 yards in a loss to the Vikings.
Fields, who entered Week 16 with 1,000 yards rushing, was held to just 11 yards on seven carries. It was his fewest yards of the season and snapped streaks of at least 50 yards in eight straight games—which was the longest active streak in the NFL—and at least 70 yards in five consecutive contests—the longest streak by a quarterback since at least 1950.
"The reality of it is I'm not going to be running for 100 yards a game," Fields said. "When a defense does a good job of taking my legs away, then my job is to take a defender with me, maybe take two with me and allow the running backs to work."
"My hat's off to Buffalo," Eberflus said. "They did a good job of keeping him in there, and when he tried to get out of there, I thought they did a nice job of the way they rushed the quarterback, and certainly had a couple guys assigned to him in some of those situations."
"They did a good job of bringing pressure and forcing us to go kind of where they wanted," Kmet said. "They've got good players up front. Credit to them. It was kind of like last week [against the Eagles]. [They have] a lot of guys that can rotate in. They came out with a good scheme. We've just got to execute better and be more physical up front."
On the shelf: The Bears were shorthanded on offense Saturday, with five players missing the game with injuries: left guard Cody Whitehair (knee), right guard Teven Jenkins (neck); receivers Chase Claypool (knee) and Equanimeous St. Brown (concussion) and tight end Trevon Wesco (calf). Other inactives were quarterback Tim Boyle and defensive tackle Angelo Blackson.
A total of 12 Bears who have started games this season did not play Saturday due to injuries. In addition to the five mentioned above, the others were center Lucas Patrick, receiver Darnell Mooney, quarterback Trevor Siemian, middle linebacker Jack Sanborn, safety Eddie Jackson and cornerbacks Jaylon Johnson and Kindle Vildor.
Line changes: The Bears started their eighth different offensive line combination of the season Saturday in left tackle Braxton Jones, left guard Larry Borom, center Sam Mustipher, right guard Michael Schofield III and right tackle Riley Reiff.
On the rebound: Kicker Cairo Santos reverted to form, making all three kicks he attempted in the frigid and windy conditions—one extra point and field goals of 37 and 35 yards.
The veteran had missed five kicks in his previous five games—two field goals and three extra points. Last Sunday against the Eagles, he missed his first extra point but then moved the spot of the ball from the right hash to the middle of the field and made his final two extra points.
"I did make a change last week, the extra points from the middle and I had a great feeling about it," Santos said. "So, I had a great feeling about it. I finished the day kind of optimistic there was something I discovered that I thought was going to work. I worked on that this week [in practice], hit the ball solid in the cold weather. Today from the middle, I was happy with it. Two field goals in these conditions. It's what I've been for a long time, but just good to at least feel like I'm on the right track with the extra point change."
Santos has now made 20 of 22 field goals this season and has converted 44 straight field goals inside 40 yards.
Bills kicker Tyler Bass struggled in the conditions, missing an extra point and a 38-yard field goal attempt.
"It was challenging," Santos said. "You see a good kicker like Tyler, it affecting his ball flight. The elements [were] brutal out here. Just had to find a way to put the ball through."
Quick start: The Bears scored on their opening possession for the 11th time in 15 games this season (three touchdowns and eight field goals) as Fields threw a 6-yard TD pass to Dante Pettis. But the offense failed to get into the end zone again on 12 subsequent possessions.
The Bears kicked two field goals, punted four times, turned the ball over on downs three times, committed two turnovers and ran out of time at the end of the first half.
On their opening drive, the Bears compiled 74 yards and four first downs; the rest of the game they mustered just 135 yards and seven first downs. They converted just 2-of-12 third-down chances in the game.
"We ran the ball effectively and then they adjusted, and we really weren't able to run the ball as well as we'd like after that," Kmet said. "We didn't run the ball well. I think that's what it came down to."
Check out the on-field action as the Bears battle the Buffalo Bills at Soldier Field on Christmas Eve.