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Recovery Issues Continue Plaguing Bears

Players hit with 'loafs' by coaches for not falling on the ball knocked out of Justin Fields' throwing hand.

A play in which Justin Fields lost a fumble while passing on Sunday in the 20-12 Bears loss to the Giants proved devastating.

The Bears once lost a division title and playoff berth on one very similar, just to show how much of a disaster it can be.

So it wasn't surprising when Bears coach Matt Eberflus decided to give players who looked at the loose ball on the ground but did nothing about it the ultimate penalty in his HITS principle grading system.

"All those guys got 'loafs' on that play, just so we know that," Eberflus said.

The Bears had just converted a third-and-20 into a first down at the New York 27 on Justin Herbert's 24-yard screen. The Bears had momentum and trailed 7-6 in the second quarter

Then Fields tried to throw, was hit by Azeez Ojulari and hadn't yet begun his throwing motion forward. Still, the ball popped out of his hand forward, where Kayvon Thibodeaux alertly fell on it for New York at the 25. The Giants took the momentum generated by the turnover to a touchdown and a 14-6 lead. 

The Bears never did get to 14 points.

It all brought up bad Bears memories of Julius Peppers hitting Aaron Rodgers while he threw in 2013, causing a ball to pop forward onto the ground where Bears linebacker James Anderson walked right past it.

Packers receiver Jarrett Boykin picked it up a few seconds later and ran into the end zone for a touchdown. It was ruled a fumble return and not an incompletion and the TD made a huge difference in a 33-28 Green Bay season-ending win for the NFC North title. The Bears finished 8-8 and out of the playoffs as a result.

This one didn't have quite those ramifications. 

Eberflus admitted those around the ball were mostly offensive linemen.

"The linemen that were right there, and then the receiver that was right there," Eberflus said, naming most "loafers" without actually saying names. "So I think that, you know, that one's a little bit harder because it's coming from behind."

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Eberflus understood why his linemen didn't leap on the ball, even while he thought they should.

"Typically when you have a fumble, and I'm a defender, you know we're punching the ball, we're all pursuing the ball, we can see that ball," Eberflus said. "It's like when (Josh) Blackwell caused the (Giants) fumble, then Jaylon (Jones) was right there, then with it squirting out, then he got it. "Well, everyone can see it. 

"That's a little harder. It's like, 'Hey, I'm in pass pro (blocking) and then all of a sudden this thing drops from the sky, you know, over my head, and then it's there.' "

One of those near it was Cody Whitehair, who later suffered a knee injury later in the game.

"So I think Cody was caught off guard, as all the linemen were," Eberflus said. "Gotta be ready for it, and jump on it, and have some reaction there."

The Bears all say they understand, but they all probably would have said the same thing before the play ever happened. It's one of those startling bang-bang type plays that runs contrary to the normal flow of action.

"Any time, like, you could see the ball on the ground, you have to get on it," wide receiver Darnell Mooney said. "We kind of preach that in practice, as well.

"The defensive guys are always running to the ball regardless of what's happening, if it's 7-on-7 or whatnot. Any time you just see a ball just randomly out there you've got to get on the ball regardless. They (coaches) definitely spoke on that, for sure."

There were three other fumbles the Bears didn't recover, including one by Giants QB Tyrod Taylor near the sideline that Nicholas Morrow actually fielded while laying on the ground. But he was out of bounds. Then there was also the final fateful muffed punt by Velus Jones Jr., and no one after the muff really had a chance to recover it in the open field except Giants or Jones. 

They also fumbled it away on the last play of the game, a wild lateral play with numerous bobbles and backward passes.

The fumble situations wouldn't seem so difficult to accept, except Eberflus last week  made it a point to talk about their failures to recovery two fumbles against Houston. He pointed out then how they have "country" fumbles and "city" fumbles based on how many players are around the ball. They have strategies for recovery of both types.

The muffed punt and lateral play were country fumbles, the other two city fumbles, and the Bears definitely had players around who could have picked up either of those two in traffic but they didn't.

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