LAKE FOREST, Ill. – Weeks before the 2023 season, Chicago Bears Recipient Darnell Mooney decided to revisit one of the most difficult moments of his career. It was October 5, 2022 when the Bears hosted this Washington commanders, and both offenses struggled. But with 30 seconds left and the Commanders leading 12-7, the Bears had a chance for a game-winning touchdown with a four-and-goal on the Washington 4.
Bears quarterback Justin Fields faked a throw and threw a pass to Mooney, who jumped and almost caught the ball while he was over the goal line for the touchdown, but he bobbled it and didn’t secure the ball until it was driven inches out of the end zone .
Washington ball – and game. Mooney said he was “responsible” by watching every detail of that game as a new season approaches, one with the promise of putting the bad memories of a three-win disaster in the rearview mirror. But with the Bears now at 0-4 after suffering their 14th straight loss on Sunday, more receiver drama is unfolding Chase Claypoolechoes of a crucial quote echoed through Halas Hall.
It’s the 15th anniversary of former Bears receiver Muhsin Muhammad telling Sports Illustrated that Chicago is “the place where receivers go to die.”
Second-year general manager Ryan Poles tried to change that narrative. He orchestrated a blockbuster trade in March, sending the No. 1 overall pick to the Carolina Panthers for a package that includes: DJ Moorea true No. 1 receiver who is 26 years old and is expected to further the development of 24-year-old quarterback Justin Fields.
But as the Bears prepare for Thursday’s rematch with the Commanders (8:15 p.m. ET, Prime Video), they rank 24th in passing yards (186.3 per game) after finishing last in 2022 had (130.5). Moore is doing his part, ranking 14th with 75.3 yards per game, but Mooney has eight total catches and Claypool’s future in Chicago is in doubt.
Several Bears receivers said they were aware of Mohammed’s quote and believe the current unit could help change that perception. But history does not bear out their optimism. The Bears have had a first-team All-Pro receiver in Brandon Marshall for the past 15 years and have been unable to attract elite free agents due to a lack of quarterback consistency (18 starting QBs in the past 15 years). in success, as their last playoff win was back in 2011. A player’s agent said free agents would carefully consider who is passing the ball to them before signing.
“If you talk about it [wide receiver]“It was a big problem for us because there was a lack of stability at the most important position on the field,” said Josh Lucas, the Bears’ director of player personnel from 2015 to 2022. “We always knew what we wanted. Since we didn’t have an attractive quarterback that the wide receivers wanted to play with, we would have to deal with the Eight Balls.”
The Bears acquired Claypool at a trade deadline on November 1, 2022, and he didn’t come cheap. Chicago sent its second-round pick, which turned out to be No. 32 overall — essentially a first-rounder — because Miami’s first-rounder was penalized by a sanction.
Claypool caught 18 passes for 191 yards and a score in 10 games for Chicago. Coach Matt Eberflus commented on his poor performance, particularly in blocking, after a loss in Week 2. And Claypool’s disappointment was evident on Friday when he said he didn’t think he was being put in the best position to showcase his abilities. Two days later, he was a healthy scratch, although Eberflus said what Claypool said had nothing to do with him being inactive. He is also asked not to participate in team activities this week.
“We’ll see how it goes,” said Eberflus on Monday. “Ryan is handling all of these things, all of these deals and transactions, and we’ll see where it goes.”
Conversely, Moore was exactly what the Bears needed. He had eight receptions for 131 yards and a touchdown Sunday, increasing his season totals to 19 catches, 301 yards and 2 touchdowns. He now has more than 100 yards in two games, becoming the first Bears receiver to do so in the first four weeks since Allen Robinson in 2020.
Marshall said the connection between Fields and Moore reminded him of what he had with Jay Cutler.
“They already have the chemistry,” Marshall said. “You saw her at training camp.”
If there was a bright spot for Chicago on Sunday, it was that the offense made some progress, particularly Fields, who had his first 300-yard passing game (335) and his first game with four passing touchdowns. The Bears entered Week 4 ranked 29th in yards per game with 250 and 26th in scoring with 15.7, and they gained 471 yards and scored 28. However, that improvement came against a Broncos team that which brought in 70 points the previous week Miami Dolphinsand there was a 31:28 defeat.
“When you’re 0-4, no one has done a good enough job,” Eberflus said. “These are just facts.
“It’s a results business and we need to do a better job together as a group.”
Without Claypool, Mooney will be under pressure to regain his 2021 form, when he caught 81 passes for 1,055 yards and four touchdowns. But optimism about a Fields-Mooney connection faded last season when he caught 40 passes for 493 yards and two scores.
That’s one reason Mooney wanted to revisit the Washington game: to learn from his mistakes. He was optimistic that adding Moore would allow this group to restore the image of the Bears’ receiving corps, but that was before the Claypool saga.
“I don’t think so… where it’s like, ‘Oh my God, this team is cursed,'” Marshall said, referring to Mohammed’s quote. “I just believe you go out there and do your job.”
Claypool’s absence also means receivers are considered a rookie Tyler Scott will have to contribute sooner than expected.
“I definitely heard it [Muhammad’s quote]said Scott. “I don’t put too much emphasis on it. That’s how he felt and that’s his opinion.
“Ultimately, every generation comes and everyone has a new chance. That’s how I look at it. Why can’t you change the stigma or the culture that Chicago may have or that you think was there?”
Marshall and Alshon Jeffery were the Bears’ last Pro Bowl receivers in 2013. In the nine seasons since, Chicago receivers have ranked 28th in targets, 31st in receiving yards and 30th in first downs receptions, and they are tied for 28th in receiving touchdowns.
Since modern NFL free agency began in 1993, Robinson was the Bears’ largest free agent acquisition at wide receiver in 2018. Marshall, like Moore, arrived via trade, and the Bears drafted Jeffery.
Lucas said the timing was perfect to sign Robinson. Mitch Trubisky, who the Bears traded to take him No. 2 overall, was entering his second season and Matt Nagy took over as head coach. Nagy had spent the last 10 seasons under Andy Reid in Philadelphia and Kansas City.
Robinson thrived with 1,147 yards and seven touchdowns in 2019 and 1,250 yards and six touchdowns the following year. But Trubisky left as a free agent Buffalo Bills in 2021, and Robinson was unhappy with his contract situation and left as a free agent Los Angeles Rams last season.
The Bears hope Fields can develop into a quarterback who can attract free agents, but there is another scenario in which Fields’ future could lie elsewhere. It’s possible the Bears could get the No. 1 overall pick for the second straight year. Chicago not only has its number 1, but also Carolina’s. The Bears and Panthers are the only 0-4 teams in the NFL.
If that happens, the Bears would be in position to take USC quarterback Caleb Williams with the overwhelming top pick, which would put Fields in the trade.
And while Williams could help attract free agents, it would mark another change to the QB revolving door. Muhammad’s frustration with the Bears was tied to the quarterback carousel he struggled with for three seasons (2005-07) after playing with Kyle Orton, Rex Grossman, Brian Griese and Jeff Blake. This contributed to Muhammad’s production taking a step down from the first nine years of his career in Carolina, where he earned first-team All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors.
“We would have to take a hard look at who plays quarterback for them before signing with Chicago,” an agent told ESPN. “Very few receivers can actually produce anything [who’s throwing them the ball]And even then, there’s no guarantee it will continue if the quarterback situation isn’t good.
“I wouldn’t be doing my job if I brought her to a point where her career could be in jeopardy.”
ESPN Jets reporter Rich Cimini contributed to this report.