Questionable decisions by Bears coaching staff play a role in heartbreaking loss to Broncos

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 01: Chicago Bears running back Khalil Herbert (24) runs with the football in action during a game between the Chicago Bears and the Denver Broncos on October 01, 2023 at Soldier Field in Chicago, IL. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sp

Bears coach Matt Eberflus praised his team's passion and energy. 

He said the team's execution was "really good in spots," and that was "a big improvement." He pointed to what he called "a lot good moments in there."

It was quite the take on Chicago's 14th consecutive loss dating to last season, one in which the Bears blew a 21-point lead during an ugly finish that included a couple of questionable decisions by Eberflus and his coaching staff.

Justin Fields passed for a career-high 335 yards and four touchdowns, but he also had a fumble returned for a score and threw an interception on Chicago's final drive in a  31-28 loss to Denver on Sunday. The Bears led 28-7 after Khalil Herbert's 2-yard TD reception with 4:11 left in the third quarter. 

"Obviously we're all very disappointed in this hard-fought battle that we had today and the outcome," Eberflus said. "But I certainly can see things moving in the right direction for our football team."

Chicago had a 28-21 lead when Fields was stripped on a sack by Nik Bonitto. Jonathan Cooper returned the fumble 35 yards for a tying touchdown with 6:55 left.

But the Bears (0-4) bounced right back, driving down the field on their next possession. Facing a third-and-5 at the Broncos 22, Herbert rushed for 4 yards with about three minutes to go.

After Denver (1-3) called timeout, Chicago lined up to go for it but then called timeout when it was unable to draw an offsides penalty.

"You get him up there like you're going for it right away and you freeze, and you call timeout right before," Eberflus said. "And then you get your best play available, because it gives you a little bit more time to get that best play going and making sure that ... we're all good, and we're set up for that moment."

Instead of trying a tiebreaking field goal, the Bears had Fields line up in the shotgun for a read option. The quarterback handed the ball to Herbert, who was stuffed for no gain.

"Just didn't go our way," Fields said. "Missed the block back side, and just got to execute in that situation."

Eberflus said he decided to go for it because he liked the way the team was running the ball. Asked about the decision to run out of shotgun instead of having Fields under center, Eberflus said they felt that was the best play at the time.

"Just because you know it's about moving people off the ball and as we've been doing all day," Eberflus said, "and we've just got to execute in that moment."

After Wil Lutz kicked a 51-yard field goal for Denver with 1:46 left, Chicago had one last chance. But Fields was picked off by Kareem Jackson when the QB tried to find Cole Kmet over the middle on third-and-13.

What was left of a Soldier Field crowd of 62,220 booed vociferously as the final seconds ticked off.

"It hurts. ... We were on our way there at the end of the fourth but we just couldn't get it done," Kmet said.

Chicago and Carolina are the last winless teams in the NFL through Week 4, and the Bears own the Panthers' first-round selection in the 2024 draft. But that's cold comfort for a Bears franchise dealing with all sorts of issues.

Wide receiver Chase Claypool was a healthy scratch after he told reporters during the week that he was not being put in the best position to succeed. He was acquired from Pittsburgh for a second-round draft pick last season.

The 25-year-old Claypool did not attend the game. After Eberflus indicated it was the receiver's choice, a team spokesman said the Bears asked him to stay home.

"Chase, he's a weapon. He's passionate," Fields said. "He just has to work on his display of his emotions, and you know me and him have had multiple conversations with that. But I mean as far as do I want him on the team, that's an easy answer. Yes, of course."