LANDOVER, Md. — It would’ve been a small step almost anywhere else, but this was big for the Bears.
They finally won a game, beating the Commanders 40-20 on Thursday to snap a franchise-long 14-game losing streak that lasted almost a year. Quarterback Justin Fields hit a rough patch in the second half but finished with a flourish to end any thought of the Bears crumbling for the second consecutive game.
The Bears got the victory shortly after learning of the death of iconic linebacker Dick Butkus at 80. The Commanders held a moment of silence for Butkus before kickoff, and coach Matt Eberflus mentioned his appreciation for him at the start of his postgame news conference.
Fields still has a long way to go, especially after his mostly quiet second half allowed the middling Commanders to creep back into the game, but he’s officially trending upward.
Rarely in his young career has Fields done more than give a sporadic impressive performance, and this season likely is his last chance to prove he can do it consistently. It’s only two games — and against lightweights in the Broncos and Commanders, at that — but in a span of five days, Fields delivered the strongest back-to-back games of his career.
‘‘I saw poise the entire time,’’ Eberflus said. ‘‘You could see him being comfortable in the pocket and going through his reads and delivering the ball on time.
‘‘He’s really learning the position and growing. We’re just gonna build on that momentum.’’
Stress skyrocketed as the Commanders chipped the Bears’ 27-3 halftime lead to 30-20 early in the fourth quarter, but kicker Joey Slye missed a 46-yard field goal with five minutes left before Fields followed with the knockout punch — a 56-yard touchdown pass to DJ Moore to put the Bears up 37-20 three plays later.
‘‘Justin put it in a good spot where only I could catch it,’’ Moore said. ‘‘It felt amazing.’’
Fields completed 15 of 29 passes for 282 yards with four touchdown passes and no turnovers for a 125.3 passer rating. That’s good, but as the Commanders crept back into the game, he went 3-for-9 for 93 yards in the second half.
Fields went to Moore all night, which is exactly what the Bears have needed him to do, and Moore finished with eight catches for 230 yards and three touchdowns. It was the best game of Moore’s career, and he came close to Alshon Jeffery’s single-game Bears record of 249 yards.
That’s progress, too. Moore is Fields’ greatest weapon and arguably the Bears’ most talented player. The Bears traded for him to give Fields a true No. 1 receiver and have been waiting for him to maximize it.
Fields got the Bears rolling from the start and was unbothered by the Commanders following a familiar defensive game plan of guarding against his running ability. They forced him to beat them as a passer, and he did.
He led the Bears to scores on their first five possessions — they hadn’t done that in nearly a decade — to take a season-high 24-point lead in the second quarter. He couldn’t maintain that pace, but he kept the Bears from imploding by steering clear of game-costing turnovers.
His performance Thursday followed his career-high 132.7 passer rating against the Broncos on Sunday, making this only the second time he has hit triple digits in back-to-back games.
Unlike the game against the Broncos, when everyone from Fields to Eberflus to the defense was complicit in a confounding collapse, Fields and the Bears held the Commanders off and never let them closer than 10 points in the second half.
Moore had more yards in the first half (137) than he had had in any full game this season and sent a game-saving jolt through the Bears when their offense stalled by making a contested catch late in the third quarter and vaulting them into scoring range.
From his own 37-yard line, Fields threw to Moore seven yards past the line of scrimmage, and Moore slipped by rookie cornerback Emmanuel Forbes to pick up another 25 yards and make sure the Bears at least would get a shot at a field goal.
The Bears’ defense was far from perfect, but it weathered the Commanders’ comeback bid well enough to give Fields some margin.
The defense was missing three starters in the secondary — cornerbacks Jaylon Johnson and Kyler Gordon and safety Eddie Jackson — and safety Jaquan Brisker played through a hamstring injury.
The Bears patched it together with cornerbacks Terell Smith and Greg Stroman, among others, and each made big plays.
Stroman intercepted a pass from quarterback Sam Howell in Commanders territory late in the second quarter to set up Fields’ four-yard touchdown pass to tight end Cole Kmet. Smith slowed the Commanders’ comeback bid by punching the ball loose from tight end Logan Thomas for another takeaway.
Everything about the Bears feels slightly better than it did at the start of the week, when Fields committed crucial turnovers late and Eberflus badly misplayed the ending against the Broncos, but there’s still a steep climb to respectability and a lot of work to do during their extra days off before they host the Vikings on Oct. 15.
The Bears must close out the Chase Claypool situation, reset their defensive coaching staff after coordinator Alan Williams’ exit and dive deep into their offense rather than assume everything’s fine after two productive performances. They can’t be content.
At 1-4, the Bears shouldn’t be content with anything.