This was yet another game the Atlanta Falcons had to win, given that it kept their slim playoff hopes alive and was presumably important for Arthur Smith’s job security. Instead, we saw Atlanta come out flat after a promising start on offense, miss a pair of field goals, and dig a deep hole against the Bears after briefly narrowing the gap to 14-7.
If the Colts game was an example of what happens when everything is firing on all cylinders, the Bears game was an example of what happens when all three phases struggle. Taylor Heinicke couldn’t get away with risky balls this week and threw three interceptions, the Falcons paired some nice runs with a lot of bottled-up ones, and the defense was abysmal much of the day against Justin Fields and company, with those missed field goals making the problem worse. Heinicke was virtually a non-factor as a passer as the game rolled on, with one big touchdown on a short screen to Tyler Allgeier and three interceptions, and the Falcons couldn’t make up ground on the Bears despite being given multiple opportunities to do so.
That led to a wildly lopsided game in the snow and wind, with the Falcons getting back into it in halfhearted fashion more than once, only to turn the ball over or surrender points shortly thereafter. For a team trying to save its head coach’s job—if indeed that job is actually at risk—and make a playoff push, the sheer ineptitude of the performance was disheartening. While the Saints beating the Buccaneers will ensure the Falcons remain alive in the NFC South for a little longer, it certainly doesn’t feel like it after that game. It feels like more of the same, except with a little additional embarrassment given the lopsided score. Now the Falcons have to prepare for the Saints and one final shot at making an unlikely NFC South crown push, or at least a little late dignity against their biggest rival. Dignity was in short supply Sunday, and it at least drove home the fact that this Falcons team fell well short of expectations in 2023.
On to the full drive-by-drive recap.
The Falcons began the game with the ball, and it began with a bang. A flea flicker pass to Drake London got them nearly to midfield, and then Bijan Robinson turned nothing into a big run to pile up 43 total yards on the first two plays. Then Taylor Heinicke took an end zone shot and just missed Kyle Pitts, with a second down direct snap to Bijan Robinson fumbled and fallen on by Desmond Ridder, who was in the game for the trick play. Then Heinicke found London for a small gain to set up the field goal try. In the snow, Younghoe Koo’s field goal try fell short.
The Bears wasted no time, with Justin Fields finding D.J. Moore down the sideline for a big gain. His first down try then went high and was not caught, before Khalil Herbert picked up about five yards on second down. On third down, Justin Fields fumbled the high snap, but a false start erased Atlanta’s recovery. Justin Fields then found his running back Roschon Johnson wide open and he rumbled for a huge gain, setting Chicago up near the goal line, but Calais Campbell was able to get the first down sack. On second down, Fields found Tyler Scott, who staggered out of bounds for basically no gain. Moore then reeled in a back of the endzone touchdown working against Jessie Bates. 7-0 Chicago.
Robinson was tackled for no gain working against Chicago’s elite run defense. Heinicke esacped pressure and picked up about five yards on second down, and then on third down with nobody open, he did it again and got a first down. Robinson then picked up four yards on first down, and then Heinicke got a first down with his legs once again. Heinicke then found London to get Atlanta inside the 30. Tyler Allgeier then picked up about five yards, but Robinson was stuffed for no gain. and Heinicke’s end zone shot to Van Jefferson was incomplete again. Koo’s field goal try in the snow and wind once again was no good, this time bonking off the upright.
Herbert went nowhere on first down. Fields kept it on second down but the Falcons effectively kept him from taking off, and he picked up about three yards. Then Fields took a deep shot to D.J. Moore, who caught it on the sideline for a big first down. Nine yards on first down gave way to a quick Velus Jones first down run up the middle. Herbert was tripped up after three yards.
A first down grab by Robert Tonyan kept the Bears moving. On the next play, Fields kept it and scored an easy touchdown on the run. 14-0 Bears.
On the very first play, Heinicke found Allgeier on a screen and the blocking was superb, springing the young back and setting up a 75 yard rumble and touchdown. 14-7 Bears.
Arnold Ebiketie tipped the first down pass and caused it to fall incomplete. The Falcons then came up with a nice run stop against Herbert. On third down, Fields hit Tonyan for about seven yards, but a tripping penalty against Chicago was declined and the fourth down arrived just the same. Punt.
Bijan got a yard or two on first down. On second down, Heinicke tried to hit Pitts and didn’t get it, and on third down he tried to escape pressure and didn’t make it. Punt.
Fields was taken down quickly by Nate Landman after a gain of two, and then a quick pass to Herbert went nowhere. Then he got Moore for a first down over the middle. Herbert then picked up a first down. Fields then hit Tyler Scott for another first down. Fields then missed Khari Blasingame on first down, and then Fields under pressure found Tonyan for a first down. Herbert picked up four, and then caught it and managed to set up a 3rd and 1. Then Johnson took it and came up just short. On fourth down, Fields took it and got a first down. Johnson then took it in for a touchdown. 21-7 Bears.
Heinicke sat in the pocket forever but couldn’t find a look he liked, finally airing it out for Drake London on the sidelines, but he was out of bounds when he caught it. Robinson was brought down after a gain of maybe a yard. Heinicke found KhaDarel Hodge on a nice ball, but Hodge couldn’t bring it down and dropped it. Punt.
Herbert took it about six yards on first down, and then was stymied on second down by Zach Harrison and Lorenzo Carter. On third down, an unblocked Kaden Elliss came flying into the backfield and sacked Fields. Punt, with Dee Alford getting from the 15 to about the 23.
Bijan Robinson’s first down carry went for two yards. Heinicke was able to escape a sack and throw it away on second down. On third down, Heinicke threw an interception.
Fields was able to get away from pressure with Kaden Elliss pursuing and threw it out of bounds. A D.J. Moore screen pass got a yard or two. On third down, Fields had to scramble and he got nowhere. The missed field goal was returned by Dee Alford, who took it most of the way but was tripped up shy of the end zone. End of half.
D.J. Moore caught it for a huge gain on first down. Herbert then took it nine yards. Herbert then took it a long way to set up a first and goal. Fields then fired it way over Moore’s head, and then tried to run it but was driven out of bounds by Jessie Bates. On third down, Fields tried Tyler Scott but he couldn’t get both feet down. On fourth down, Chicago sent the offense out and got the Falcons to burn a timeout, and then kicked the field goal. 24-7 Bears.
Robinson caught one for about six yards, and then ran it for about eight and a first down. Van Jefferson caught it for nine yards on the next play, and then Robinson got nowhere on second down. MyCole Pruitt then reeled in a first down grab, and a roughing the passer call gave the Falcons an additional 15 yards. Allgeier then took it a couple of yards, and then on second down, a short pass to London was broken up. A short pass to Jonnu Smith then fell incomplete. Field goal try for the Falcons, and Koo hit it. 24-10 Bears.
Fields fired it over Scott’s head on first down. Roschon Johnson then got maybe a yard on second down, but Fields incredibly escaped two sacks and ran for a first down. A short run was followed by yet another first down throw, this time to a practice squad callup. The Falcons challenged the play and burned a timeout after it was upheld. On first down, Fields tried for Moore but Terrell helped break it up. Then Herbert ran for five yards, and Fields went nowhere on his run. Chicago elected to go for it on fourth down, and Fields threw it out of bounds after not getting someone to jump, even if Bud Dupree was close. Turnover on downs.
Heinicke threw a high pass to Robinson on first down. On second down, he threw a pick right to a leaping Tyrique Stevenson.
Velus Jones picked up an offensive pass interference on first down. The first down run for Herbert was eaten up by LaCale London. and then Fields found Moore for a first down, with Moore knocking A.J. Terrell to the ground along the way. Fields then took an end zone shot to Scott, who just couldn’t bring it in with Mike Hughes draped over him. Herbert then took it four yards, and then Bates dropped Moore a yard shy of a first down. The Bears lined up for a field goal try, and Cairo Santos banged it home. 27-10 Bears.
Robinson picked up four yards, and then picked up five on second down. On the final play of the quarter, Tyler Allgeier got the yard for a first down.
Heinicke nearly threw a first down interception, but Robinson took it ten yards on the next play for a first down. Robinson then took it about four yards before Heinicke airmailed another throw that might have been intercepted. His next throw to Van Jefferson went about six yards, but Jefferson was stopped cold before he could push for more yardage. An unnecessary roughness call on the Bears gave the Falcons 15 yards and a first down. Heinicke then found Jefferson again for about six yards, and then missed Jonnu Smith. On third down, though, Heinicke was able to get away from pressure and house one with his legs for a touchdown, thanks in part to some really strong blocking by Matthew Bergeron. 27-17 Bears.
D.J. Moore picked up 20ish yards and a first down. No gain for Herbert on first down on the following play, and then Fields picked up a huge gain before a holding call brought it back. A quick pass to Roschon Johnson went for a few yards, and then another pass to Johnson picked up maybe ten yards. Punt.
Heinicke threw it to London on first down, but it was a little off-target. On second down, he went for Jefferson but threw it out of bounds. Under pressure, he threw it in the dirt trying to go for Kyle Pitts. Punt.
Johnson took it a couple of yards on first down. On second down, Fields kept it and the Falcons bottled him up. On third down, Fields escaped pressure and got a first down again. A quick run picked up six yards, and then Fields overshot Tonyan by a mile. An end zone s hot to Moore fell incomplete, with Dee Alford all over him. That led to a field goal try, which Chicago hit. 30-17 Bears.
A first down run for Robinson went nowhere, and then Heinicke was sacked on second down. On third down, Heinicke threw a risky ball to London that was incomplete. That brought up fourth down, and Heinicke escaped pressure and threw an interception to all but officially end the game.
A couple of yards on first down for Herbert, and then Herbert took it to the one yard line. He then scored on the next play to make it extra embarrassing for the Falcons. 37-17 Bears.
Robinson then took it 10 yards, with Ridder back in the game. Ridder hit Robinson for another first down, but threw another interception on the very next play as the pass was deflected.
Herbert was taken down on first down after no gain. Fields dropped back to throw and had the ball knocked out of his hands by Lorenzo Carter, with the Bears recovering. A quick run by Johnson picked up a few yards and set up the punt as time ticked away.
Allgeier ran it for a couple of yards, and then ran it again for a couple of yards. Thus ended an awful game.