On a dreary afternoon after the Chicago Bears’ fifth straight loss, the mood in the visitors’ locker room at MetLife Stadium felt predictably somber. For starters, a 31-10 drubbing of the New York Jets sparked a different kind of upset within a last-place team that had lost eight times before Sunday.
“I thought we kicked our ass, honestly,” said tight end Cole Kmet.
But there was much more to this latest dejection: the anguish that comes with watching team leaders fall by the wayside. Safety Eddie Jackson came out of the locker room with a boot on his left foot. He was injured in the second quarter, his leg giving out while trying to intercept what turned out to be a 54-yard Jets touchdown pass.
Almost immediately, Jackson’s absence was felt.
“He’s a leader, bro,” defensive tackle Justin Jones said. “He’s a hell of a player. I hope he is well and I hope he comes back soon. Because we need him on defense. We really do.”
Linebacker Nicholas Morrow added, “It’s hard to replace a guy like that.”
In the third quarter, wide receiver Darnell Mooney exited with a left ankle injury, his day ending when Jets safety Jordan Whitehead landed on the back of his leg while Mooney was involved in a block on a run by David Montgomery .
Mooney was unable to put an ounce of weight on his leg as he was assisted to the locker room. His exit also hit his teammates hard.
“It stinks,” quarterback Trevor Siemian said. “As a player, (losing him) is terrible. But if you’ve spent any time with Darnell, he’s one of the best guys in our locker room. That’s the part of the game that stinks.”
Kmet added: “You hate to see a guy like Moon go down. He’s just a bright, vibrant guy in the group and obviously a great playmaker. When you lose him, it’s definitely hard.”
From the looks of things, it would be amazing if Jackson or Mooney are available for next Sunday’s game against the Green Bay Packers at Soldier Field. Until more is known about the specifics of each injury, the prospect of one or both players ending up on the bench cannot be ruled out.
“When you lose production from these guys, number one, that always hurts,” coach Matt Eberflus said. “But then there’s the driving part. These guys were great in the locker room. They are great teammates.”
For the Bears, Sunday will go down in the books as one of the worst days of a rough season. In addition to the injuries to Jackson and Mooney, right tackle Riley Reiff left with a shoulder problem and his replacement, Larry Borom, was unable to finish with an injury the team did not disclose. Backup safety Dane Cruikshank suffered a hamstring injury.
Rookie defensive ends Kyler Gordon and Jaquan Brisker were inactive with concussions suffered a week earlier in Atlanta. So, yes, the Bears came up significantly short in their bid to avoid a winless November.
The only good thing that came out of Sunday was the team’s decision to keep starting quarterback Justin Fields inactive with a separated left shoulder. Fields, who wasn’t officially ruled out until 90 minutes before kickoff, never got cleared to play from Bears medical staff.
Even after that call was made and Siemian was given the green light to start, he too had his own bad luck, straining an oblique muscle during pregame warmups.
Yes, you read that right. The backup defender strained an oblique – in the warm-ups.
That prompted the Bears to announce that Nathan Peterman would start. By the time Siemian was given pain relief, he fought through his discomfort and was cleared to play less than 15 minutes before kickoff.
“Honestly, I’m more embarrassed,” Siemian said. “You have a room full of guys playing in Week 12, going through hell, and I came up with a non-contact thing. Yeah, it’s not ideal.”
Heading into Sunday’s game, the Bears’ fifth straight loss was their most lopsided of the season, both in margin of defeat and competitive offense. Jets quarterback Mike White, making his first start of the year, threw for 315 yards with three touchdown passes and a 149.3 passer rating. At times he looked like Aaron Rodgers, calmly operating out of the pocket, finding completions, then mixing in a flurry of timely big plays.
Garrett Wilson (five catches, 95 yards) caught two of White’s touchdown passes, the first after breaking free from a hold by Bears cornerback Kindle Vildor.
The Jets also got a 32-yard touchdown run from running back Ty Johnson that came with at least three Bears defenders — linebacker Jack Sanborn and safeties DeAndre Houston-Carson and Elijah Hicks — not managed to complete fairly routine approach attempts.
The Jets averaged 7.5 yards per play as the Bears defense failed to come up with a takeaway while producing just one sack.
“I know we probably played a lot of guys that were surprised to be there,” Jones said. “But we have to make sure these guys are ready.”
Without Fields, meanwhile, the Bears offense lacked any significant pop. They scored 10 points on their first two possessions, then went scoreless over the final 44 minutes, 20 seconds.
The offense’s 292 yards total marked the fifth time this season the unit failed to reach 300. Over the final three quarters, the Bears managed just 156 yards and eight first downs.
Eberflus couldn’t even count on his team’s competitive tenacity as a bright spot.
“No apologies, no explanations,” he said. “It wasn’t good enough. I told the guys in the locker room, “We’re better than that.”
Right now, though, the 3-9 Bears aren’t any better than a lot of teams. The only team with fewer wins is the Houston Texans at 1-9-1.
Still, there are five games left. And with the losses and injuries piling up, the Bears must find additional reserves to keep their focus and commitment to the finish line.
“It comes down to the individual,” Eberflus said. “We have men of character in that locker room. They fought all the way. And we will continue to build on that for sure. And then it comes down to daily practice and daily habits. What do you do every day to get better?”
Right now, the Bears’ “getting better” demands include a troubling list of notable players working to recover from significant injuries.