The Bears Are The Biggest Embarrassment
9:40 AM EDT on October 2, 2023
Two teams entered the Crud Bowl on Sunday afternoon, but only one could leave it as the biggest collection of losers in the NFL. Would it be the 0-3 Denver Broncos, who gave up 70 points to the Miami Dolphins in their previous game, or the 0-3 Chicago Bears, who are less a football team than a case study in organizational dysfunction?
It's the Bears! The Bears are the biggest collection of losers in the NFL, thanks to their 31-28 loss. This Crud Bowl did not disappoint, as both teams were able to find plenty of ways to humiliate themselves within the confines of 60 minutes of football. For a while, it looked like the Broncos were going to be the big losers of the day. They let Justin Fields, perhaps the league's least functional starting quarterback, pass all over them. Fields finished with 335 yards and four touchdowns, and he staked the Bears to a 28-7 lead with just over four minutes left to play in the third quarter. But then the Broncos managed two long touchdown drives, and it was suddenly a one-score game with just under 10 minutes left to play. That's when Fields went back to being the player we saw through the first three weeks of the season.
It was first-and-10 on the Broncos' 48-yard line when Fields faked a hand-off, only to turn around and see Nik Bonitto running at him, totally unblocked, from the edge. The play was blown, and Fields's only option was to turtle up and accept the sack. Instead, he kind of jumped backward a bit and tried to pass the ball to ... well, it's not exactly clear, and that decision ended with the ball plopping gently onto the ground about five yards away, where it was scooped up by Jonathon Cooper and returned for a touchdown.
The Bears bounced back from that with a 57-yard drive that got them into field-goal range, but head coach Matt Eberflus decided to play for the win instead of the tie when faced with a fourth-and-1 on the Broncos' 18. He called for a handoff out of a shotgun formation, which ended with running back Khalil Herbert being stuffed well behind the line of scrimmage.
The Broncos kicked a field goal to take the lead on the next drive, Fields threw a game-ending interception a few minutes later, and the Bears left the field 0-4.
If there's one thing the 2023 Chicago Bears specialize in, it's extending their humiliations beyond what happens on the field. Remember Chase Claypool, the wide receiver the Bears traded a second-round pick for and then threatened with deactivation after he apparently loafed his way through the first few games of the season? Well, they followed through on that threat on Sunday, because Claypool was listed as a healthy scratch before the game and was nowhere to be seen on the sideline. On Friday, Claypool had made some pointed comments to reporters about how he wasn't being used effectively in the Bears' scheme.
An ostensibly key offensive player getting banished from the team is going to bring a lot of attention and raise a lot of questions, and so it behooves any team, particularly one that is 0-4, to have a clear plan in place for answering questions about the decision. The Bears, of course, had no such plan, and after Sunday's game Eberflus made a big mess of the situation. He was asked 14 consecutive questions about Claypool during his postgame press conference, and not one of them received a clear answer about why Claypool wasn't involved in the game, or who was ultimately responsible for his absence. This run of four questions and answers is so maddening that it almost reads as a bit:
Was [Claypool] here today?
He was not here.
Did you guys tell him to stay home?
He chose to stay home?
No, he ... he chose ... what are you asking?
Why was he not at the stadium today like other inactive players?
I'm not sure.
After Eberflus's press conference was over, the Bears had to send out a spokesperson to clarify that the team did indeed ask Claypool to stay home.
The good news for the Bears is that they currently have a hold on the No. 1 pick in the upcoming draft, as well as the rights to the 0-4 Panthers' pick, which is currently slotted at No. 2 overall. Those two teams play each other on Thursday Night Football on Nov. 9. Clear your schedules.