Column: Free play. Big win. How Justin Fields and the Chicago Bears turned a Detroit Lions gaffe into a statement moment.

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There were a dozen descriptions bouncing around Soldier Field on Sunday of the play that swung the Chicago Bears’ 28-13 victory, the third-quarter 38-yard touchdown pass from Justin Fields to DJ Moore — a play the Bears never had any intention of running.

On fourth-and-13? From well inside Detroit Lions territory?

Yeah. That’s “Puntsville” all day long.

“Prime territory to take a delay (penalty),” tight end Cole Kmet said.

But hey. No harm in trying to bait an offside infraction, right?

Thus, the Bears offense went into theater mode, approaching the line of scrimmage with 22 seconds on the play clock and working to put on a show. Of course, 21 players on the field and 62,185 people in the stands were fully expecting an intentional delay of game foul or maybe a Bears timeout.

But then left tackle Braxton Jones and guard Teven Jenkins started doing their bit up front, shouting at one another and gesticulating in an effort to trick the Lions into thinking a play was coming.

On fourth-and-13. From the Lions 38.

“Tev was doing a great job communicating and pointing,” Jones said. “He’s shouting, ‘Go to this guy! Go to that guy!’ We were doing anything we could to get them to believe we were going to snap the ball.”

Kmet got so caught up in the thespian silliness that, from the right side of the formation, he started gesturing at receiver Darnell Mooney.

“I gave Mooney some weird sign and he looked at me like, ‘What the hell?’” Kmet said. “I just knocked on my head.”

Fields, meanwhile, had the biggest duty, first making a dummy protection adjustment, then using an emphatic cadence he hoped could lure any of the Lions defensive linemen into a slip-up.

“Just treat it like a normal play,” Fields said.

And center Lucas Patrick? Well, he needed to recognize if a defender crossed the line of scrimmage and then immediately snap the ball.

“All of us together were on the same page there,” Patrick said. “And when we’re on the same page in making it look, feel and smell like something, it adds some validity to all of it.

“In practice, we had a few instances this week where it just happened. We were ready.”

Moore’s job was among the easiest.

“Once I see it snapped? Just go win,” he said.

And so Moore beat cornerback Jerry Jacobs with an inside release and ran a schoolyard deep route. Fields’ throw hit him in stride. Touchdown.

By the middle of next week, there may be a 10,000-word oral history and a two-part documentary in the works about all the Bears did right to capitalize on the moment that swung Sunday’s game. But truth be told, the Lions simply made a mistake. A big and inexcusable mistake. Specifically, standout pass rusher Aidan Hutchinson made the blunder that opened the door for Fields to steal a free play and capitalize on it with that 38-yard bomb to his favorite receiver.

It was Hutchinson, whose brain hiccupped with 1:41 remaining in the third quarter, causing him to jump offsides, which triggered the Patrick snap which led to the Fields throw that resulted in a Moore catch that gave the Bears the lead for good in what is now their most convincing victory all season.

“Just a momentary lapse in judgment,” Hutchinson said. “I’m disgusted with it.”

Again, every player on the Bears offense was expecting to leave the field for a punt while still prepared to react to a Lions gaffe.

“We weren’t even trying to run a play,” Jones said with a smile.

“Just supposed to be a freeze play,” Moore explained.

Kmet simply laughed when he thought back to Hutchinson falling into the Bears’ trap.

“I was shocked,” he said. “Shocked. … I can’t believe they jumped.”

There was chatter in the postgame locker room about how exactly the Bears worked to fool the Lions into believing a play was coming without also overselling it. There were questions asked about the instincts Fields used to alertly react to the free play opportunity.

“Really good throw, really good catch and really good reaction,” Bears coach Matt Eberflus said. “When they jump, you’ve got to beat them to the punch. Because the defense isn’t quite ready. A lot of times the D-line stops. When they jump offsides they stop, they hesitate. So you have a little bit more time. And that’s exactly what happened.”

The Bears finally took a blunder by their opponent and cashed it in a big way, first with that explosive touchdown play that put them ahead 19-13 and later by finishing the job on their 15-point win.

During a dominant second half in which they outgained the Lions 189-76 and outscored them 18-0, Fields’ tiebreaking touchdown pass registered as the pivotal play on a day full of big moments that allowed the Bears to win for the third time in the past four games.

Also on the list of huge contributions:

Moore’s 16-yard first-half TD run on a gadget play the Bears just dropped into their playbook this week.
Jaylon Johnson’s second-quarter interception inside the Bears 20 that abruptly halted a Lions march.
Jack Sanborn’s fourth-and-1 stop on Jahmyr Gibbs in the fourth quarter with the Bears protecting a 25-13 lead.
Justin Jones’ win-sealing 9-yard sack with 2:44 remaining, one of 13 plays on which the Bears either hit, sacked or intercepted Jared Goff.

Without question, the Bears defense deserves acclaim for the second-half shutout it posted, forcing the Lions into three consecutive three-and-outs in the third quarter and limiting them to four first downs on seven possessions after halftime. Right now, that unit may be transitioning from the staircase to the escalator on their undeniable ascent.

Fields, meanwhile, played well overall, throwing for 223 yards and rushing for 58 more, including an 11-yard scramble TD early in the fourth quarter. That helped put the game away shortly after a T.J. Edwards fumble recovery.

On that touchdown run, Fields was eyeing Moore in single coverage on a corner route to the end zone. But the quarterback’s vision changed as he broke the pocket and rolled right.

“I looked down and saw green grass right there,” Fields said. “So I ran.”

He ran into the south end zone and helped to punctuate the Bears’ second consecutive NFC North win.

Still, so much of the momentum the Bears capitalized on began building with that fateful fourth-and-13, on what seemed destined to be becoming a disappointing possession. Until it wasn’t. Until Hutchinson jumped offside. Until the window of opportunity opened.

Patrick stressed the importance of the Bears’ readiness for that moment and didn’t underestimate his experience playing with the Green Bay Packers for six seasons where Aaron Rodgers made free-play magic a regular occurrence.

“Honestly, it’s something (offensive coordinator Luke) Getsy has hammered since coming here,” Patrick said. “When you can get yourself lined up and take a free shot, you have to be on it. … And look, I’ve had quite a few game reps with that situation. This league is all about banked reps. And that’s when you can tell you’re growing. I’m proud of all our guys for reacting the right way.”

Moore kept himself ready for a possible offside then pounced when it came.

“It’s a straight go ball at that point,” he said. “When he jumped, I was like, ‘Shoot! I’m out!’ From there it was like, ‘Meep! Meep!’”

While Moore got his legs turning like the Road Runner, Fields’ eyes widened.

“We practice that multiple times a week,” he said.

Fields took the snap. He ripped his throw. He gave the Bears the lead on their way to a statement win.


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