Coming off a three-win 2022 season, the only direction the Chicago Bears could go was up. However, after a dismal 1-5 start to the 2023 season, things looked like they were somehow getting worse. A much-anticipated season was spoiled from the beginning by a lackluster offense and a terrible defense. Things seemed lost for a young Bears team, and people began looking towards the 2024 NFL Draft.
Thankfully, a 6-5 run headlined by an impressive defensive turnaround aided the Bears in finishing the season with a respectable 7-10 record. Suddenly, hope is back in the air in Chicago. The Bears boast a much-improved and talented roster, plus the first and ninth overall picks in this year’s draft.
Once again, it looks like the only direction they can go is up.
Click here to read the rest of our NFL season recaps.
What Went Right for Bears
Chicago’s mid-season defensive turnaround deserves all the praise it gets. After being the lowest-ranked scoring defense in 2022 and showing more of the same during the first half of the 2023 season, things took a drastic, positive turn.
Many people deserve credit, but the addition of Montez Sweat was the main catalyst for this unprecedented shift. The Bears notched 20 sacks in the nine games after acquiring the pass rusher from Washington, compared to just 10 through the first eight games of the season. Additionally, Chicago tied for first in the league in interceptions with 22. The Bears also ranked as the league’s top run defense, allowing 86.4 rushing yards per game and just one 100-yard rushing performance all season.
Inconsistencies marred the Bears’ offense, but through it all, the ground game continued to be one of the best in the league. Chicago recorded 2,399 rushing yards, good for second-most in the NFL.
What Went Wrong for Bears
The Bears suffered several brutal late-game collapses. The first one came in Week 4 against the Denver Broncos. After taking a 28-7 lead, the Broncos scored 24 unanswered points, including 17 in the fourth quarter, to steal away the victory.
The second (and worst) collapse occurred in Week 11 against the Detroit Lions. The Bears led 26-14 with just over four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, yet somehow managed to squander away a two-score lead and lost, 31-26.
The final collapse happened in Week 15 in a visit to Cleveland. Chicago held a 17-7 lead over the Browns heading into the fourth quarter and maintained a 17-10 lead until around three minutes left in the game. Somehow, some way, the Bears pulled off another head-scratching loss, this time falling, 20-17.
Blame can be dispersed all around, but most of it falls on head coach Matt Eberflus, who oversaw these collapses. The Bears blew three wins they had in the bag, which cost them a 10-win season and a playoff spot.
Team Award Winners
MVP – Montez Sweat
A player rarely comes in mid-season and immediately becomes the team’s most valuable player. However, Sweat has done just that. In nine games with the Bears, the 27-year-old recorded six sacks, 14 quarterback hits, 21 pressures, three pass breakups, and one forced fumble. He was also selected for his first-ever Pro Bowl. The “‘Tez effect” impacted the entire defense as they quickly shifted to being one of the best units in the league down the stretch, and many players demonstrated the best football in their careers.
Despite not even being on the team for the first half of the season, Sweat proved to be the textbook definition of a team’s MVP.
Crazy how the NFL world clowned the Bears for giving up a 2nd round pick for Montez Sweat, now here at the Pro Bowl they’re saying they can’t believe the Commanders ONLY got a 2nd round pick for Sweat pic.twitter.com/IohZbRsVnP
— Pete (@Pete_Martuneac) February 4, 2024
Rookie of the Year – Tyrique Stevenson
The rookie out of Miami had himself a phenomenal first season in the NFL. Despite a rough start to his career, where struggles in coverage were the main issue, Stevenson put together a superb back half of the season and finished with 86 total tackles, 16 pass breakups, four interceptions, and two forced fumbles.
Stevenson has all the momentum he could ask for heading into his second season. He’s proven he has the potential to be a future star in this league, and a breakout could be on the horizon for the 23-year-old.
Best Offseason Addition – D.J. Moore
Without question, the best offseason addition the Bears made was wide receiver D.J. Moore. Acquired in the blockbuster trade that sent the 2023 No. 1 pick to the Carolina Panthers, Moore has been everything the Bears could’ve asked for.
The 26-year-old experienced career-highs with 96 receptions, 1,364 receiving yards, and nine total touchdowns in 2023. General manager Ryan Poles did an outstanding job adding Moore. Now, Chicago has its star WR1 for years to come.
Biggest Surprise – Jaylon Johnson
Headed into a contract season, Johnson needed to play the best football of his career. He did just that. The 24-year-old was one of the best cornerbacks in the league in 2023. In coverage, Johnson allowed just 25 receptions for 195 yards and one touchdown all season while hauling in four interceptions. In addition, he allowed just a 33.3 passer rating when targeted and was the highest-graded cornerback in the league with a grade of 90.8, according to PFF. His elite play was recognized with Second-Team All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors.
Johnson took the opportunity and surprised everyone by becoming one of the best at his position. He’s on track to being rewarded as one of the highest-paid cornerbacks in the league.
Biggest Disappointment – Darnell Mooney
Once a 1,000-yard receiver, Mooney hasn’t been able to return to the captivating magic of his 2021 season. And, heading into a contract year after a season-ending injury in 2022, Mooney had the worst campaign of his career. In 15 games, he recorded 31 receptions, 414 yards, and one touchdown while his yards per game average dropped to 27.6. These marks were all career lows.
Mooney will undoubtedly get a contract and a second chance to prove himself this offseason. Whether it’s with Chicago or not is still to be determined.
One Burning Question
What will the Bears do at quarterback?
It’s a question all too familiar for Bears fans. Once again, there’s an imminent decision at quarterback. Justin Fields by no means played poorly. However, in a season where he needed to break out and prove he was the quarterback of the future, he left a lot of unanswered questions on the table. If the Bears weren’t in the position they’re in, Fields would undoubtedly earn a fourth season with the team. However, in a draft containing Caleb Williams, Chicago was gifted the first overall pick courtesy of the Panthers 2-15 season.
Chicago finds itself in a polarizing situation. Trade down for even more assets, or draft the blue-chip quarterback prospect?
— Prime Time Sports Talk (@TalkPrimeTime) December 31, 2023
Main Image Credit: