EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- When the 2022 NFL schedule was released, the Bears and New York Giants each had to have circled Sunday's Week 4 game at MetLife Stadium as a game they should win.
The Giants gave the Bears every chance to take the win and leave the Meadowlands at 3-1. But the Bears' offense couldn't crack the seal on the MetLife Stadium end zones and headed back home with a 20-12 loss.
A week after putting up one of the worst games of his career against the Houston Texans, quarterback Justin Fields took a step forward against the Giants. Fields finished the game 11-for-22 for 174 yards and rushed for 52 yards.
But the passing game couldn't connect in the red zone, and the Bears let a winnable game slip through their fingers.
As a result, they were sent home with a disappointing report card.
Look, it was better than last week.
That's not saying much, but progress is progress.
Fields connected on passes of 18, 56, and 18 on Sunday, all three of which went to Darnell Mooney. Explosive pass plays like that are a silver lining for a struggling Bears' passing attack.
Fields completed 50 percent of his passes and did not throw an interception. But he did have a crucial fumble in the second quarter, and the passing game couldn't get the job done in their three red zone possessions.
It was better than last week, but still not very good.
The Bears rushed for 281 yards last week in a win over the Houston Texans, with Khalil Herbert racking up 157 of those in relief of David Montgomery.
Given the state of the Giants' run defense without defensive lineman Leonard Williams, many expected the Bears to lean on the Giants with the run game and hand the ball off to win.
That was not the case.
The Bears' run game was solid Sunday. They rushed for 149 yards on 32 carries for 4.7 yards a clip. But 52 of those yards came from Fields on scrambles. Herbert ran for 77 yards on 19 carries but couldn't get loose for big, game-breaking runs.
The loss of left guard Cody Whitehair also appeared to impact the Bears' run game. Defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence had his way with Lucas Patrick and center Sam Mustipher for much of the game after Whitehair left.
Running the ball continues to be a strength of the Bears' offense. But being unable to punch it in while in the red zone dings them here.
Daniel Jones isn't exactly Peyton Manning, and given how successful the Giants were at running the ball, Brian Daboll didn't elect to air it out Sunday.
On the day, Jones went 8-for-13 for 71 yards. He left the game with an ankle injury in the second half. Tyrod Taylor entered and went 1-for-3 for 11 yards and an interception.
With the Giants missing receivers Sterling Shepard, Wan'Dale Robinson, and Kadarius Toney, the Bears were always going to see a healthy dose of Saquan Barkley.
The Giants were only going to throw if the Bears made them. The Bears never did.
The Bears' run defense has been an area of concern all season. The Green Bay Packers absolutely ran over them in Week 2.
Head coach Matt Eberflus' defense bounced back with a better tackling performance in Week 3 against the Texans. But things reverted Sunday in the Meadowlands.
The Giants took the Bears to school with a litany of play-action bootlegs that got Jones out on the edge. With Barkley humming, Jones used his sleight of hand to devastating effect on the fakes. The Bears kept biting and kept biting.
When the dust settled, the Giants rushed for 262 yards on 44 carries.
Roquan Smith and Robert Quinn called it a "look in the mirror" game for the defense. Safety Eddie Jackson bemoaned the "self-inflicted wounds" on defense.
The Bears missed tackles, had poor eye discipline, and couldn't make the plays needed to help out a scuffling offense.
Stopping Barkley was the focal point of the Bears' defensive game plan, and the electric running back finished the day with 146 yards on 31 carries.
That's not going to get it done.
Velus Jones Jr.'s NFL debut was supposed to give the Bears a boost in the return game.
Instead, the rookie wound up making a mistake that cost the Bears a chance to win the game.
With just over two minutes to go in the game, the Bears' defense forced the Giants to punt from their own 7-yard line. Fields and the Bears' offense were waiting to end, expecting to get the ball around midfield.
But the wind got a hold of the Giants' punt, and Jones didn't play the punt properly. The ball hit off Jones' hands, and the Giants recovered, effectively ending the game.
Replacement kicker Michael Badgley went four-for-four in relief of Cairo Santos, who was out due to a personal matter.
But the return game continues to be a problem for the Bears, and Jones' muff cost them dearly Sunday.