DETROIT (AP) — Justin Fields was an inch from a perfect return.
After missing three games with a dislocated thumb, the Chicago Bears quarterback was 16 of 23 for 169 yards and a touchdown Sunday while running for 104 yards on a career-high 18 carries.
But he missed the knockout punch in the Bears' 31-26 loss to the Detroit Lions.
With 2:51 to play, Chicago led Detroit 26-21 when it faced third-and-9 from its 26. Fields was looking for top receiver DJ Moore on a crossing route, but Detroit's deep safety moved down to help to cover it.
That meant rookie Tyler Scott was in single coverage on a deep route and Fields adjusted. The pass looked perfect — but when Scott looked back to find the ball, he stumbled slightly and the ball went through his hands.
“If we hit that, it is game over,” Fields said. “He was running straight, but I think he got a little off balance when he turned his head. That's what caused him to miss it.
"He's a really good young player with a big future in this game, and the next time he'll probably make that catch.”
This time, though, he didn't.
The Bears punted and the Lions drove 73 yards to score the winning touchdown with 29 seconds left.
Fields got one more play, but Aidan Hutchinson knocked the ball out of his hand and it bounced through the end zone for a safety and a 31-26 final.
“We know we just played one of the top five teams in the league, probably top three, and we should have won the game,” Fields said. “It hurts, but we need to remember that we are capable of doing this.”
Fields has rushed for at least 100 yards against the Lions three times in the last two seasons, but the Bears have lost all three games. On Sunday, he averaged 5.8 yards per carry, mostly on designed runs, but he didn't get a chance to add to that on Chicago's biggest plays.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, with the Bears leading 20-14, Fields was stopped inches short of a first down on a 3rd-and-1 sneak. Facing fourth-and-inches from the Detroit 23, coach Matt Eberflus and offensive coordinator Luke Getsy decided to kick a 40-yard field goal.
“Obviously, we thought about going for it there,” Eberflus said. “We have a lot of confidence in our offense, especially the way Justin was running the ball, but we decided to take the nine-point lead and make them score twice.”
After the defense got a three-and-out, the Bears ran more than eight minutes off the clock before kicking another field goal to take a 26-14 lead with 4:15 to go.
“By kicking another field goal, we knew we had a 12-point lead and we had a chance to force the Lions to start using their timeouts,” Eberflus said.
Detroit, though, only needed six plays and 76 seconds before Jared Goff hit Jameson Williams for a 32-yard touchdown. Scott fair caught the ensuing kickoff, giving Chicago the ball at the 25 with 2:59 left.
On the first two plays, Khalil Herbert hit the middle of the line for no gain and 1 yard. The Lions used their first two timeouts, so only 8 seconds had run off the clock when Fields tried to hit the clinching deep ball to Scott.
“On second down, it was a run-option play, but against their defense, I knew I had to give it to Khalil,” Fields said. “Believe me, if I have a chance to keep the ball, I will, but it wasn't there.”
If Scott had made the catch, the Lions would have had to call their final timeout with the Bears already in field-goal position.
Instead, Detroit got the ball back with 2:33 left and finished off the improbable comeback.
“We got four turnovers, but we need to turn more of them into touchdowns,” Fields said. “If we do that today, we win the game.”
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