LAKE FOREST, Ill. — The Chicago Bears squeezed past the Minnesota Vikings on a last-second field goal Monday night and then basked in a rare victory heading into their open week.
Coach Matt Eberflus gave the game ball to the entire team as general manager Ryan Poles stood by his side and president Kevin Warren looked on.
“New beginning, right here,” he told his players.
It's a little late for the Bears (4-8) to start over this season. But how they perform the rest of the way could go a long way toward determining the moves they make in the offseason, starting with their game against Detroit at Soldier Field on Dec. 10.
There are big questions about Justin Fields' future, with a decision on his fifth-year option for 2025 looming and the potential to draft one of the top quarterbacks. Caleb Williams and Drake Maye could be in play for the Bears with two high first-round picks — their own and the one they got from Carolina in an offseason trade. The Panthers (1-10) are last in the NFL.
As for Eberflus and Poles? Until Warren or chairman George McCaskey offer some clarity, the speculation won't go away.
Chicago is last in the NFC North after going a league-worst 3-14 in its first season under Eberflus and Poles. At 7-22, Eberflus has the worst record of any Bears coach.
Chicago also has a quarterback who was in place when the general manager arrived and a GM who was on the job before the president was hired. Warren joined the organization in January after three years as commissioner of the Big Ten.
“As a team, we haven’t let our record define who we are,” Fields said. “We know who we are as a team. We know what we’re capable of.”
The Bears came in with their sights set higher after a busy offseason. But instead of taking a big step forward, they've endured their most chaotic season in recent memory.
Fields struggled in the early going with the Bears trying to turn him into more of a pocket passer. He indicated in late September that he was coached into being robotic with the staff feeding him too much information, remarks he later tried to soften.
That same day, defensive coordinator Alan Williams resigned after a week away from the team. Running backs coach David Walker got fired leading up to the Week 9 loss at New Orleans, with Poles indicating it was for behavior.
There was an embarrassing blowout at defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City in Week 3 and epic collapses against Denver and Detroit in Weeks 4 and 11. The Broncos rallied from 21 down and the Lions wiped out a 12-point deficit in the closing minutes to win 31-26.
One area of growth? The defense.
The Bears have gone from being ranked 29th to ninth in total defense since a Week 5 win at Washington. It's not just because of the acquisition of defensive end Montez Sweat, though the deadline trade for the edge rusher has no doubt helped.
Cornerback Jaylon Johnson has three interceptions in the past six weeks after picking off one pass in his first 43 NFL games. He is in for a big contract with his rookie deal expiring.
As for Fields?
He still might have time to convince the Bears to stick with him if they're still unsure. But time is not on his side.
Fields has thrown for 1,587 yards with 12 touchdowns, six interceptions and a 92.3 passer rating that ranks 13th in the NFL. He has also run for 400 yards and a score.
Fields was showing some growth as a passer before dislocating his right thumb in a Week 6 loss to Minnesota. He returned against Detroit after missing four games and helped put Chicago in position to come out on top before the late collapse.
In the win at Minnesota, he shook off two fourth-quarter fumbles and led the winning drive as the Bears stopped a 12-game losing streak against division opponents. In his 34 games prior to that, he had one fourth-quarter comeback and two game-winning drives.
Fields also had one more play to make at Minnesota as Eberflus finished his postgame pep talk. He gave kudos to his teammates for sticking with him despite those two fumbles.
“For him to stand up there and do that in that moment, I think that’s special and it says a lot about his character and about his leadership,” Eberflus said. "It was really neat to see. And the response of the guys was also really cool to see, too, and that was a cool moment.”