Career day for Bears WR Cam Meredith spoiled by late fumble

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Bears receiver Cam Meredith led the Bears with 66 catches for 888 yards in 2016. (Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS — Of course Cam Meredith was excited.

The Bears’ second-year receiver ran a stutter and go route Sunday, and Colts cornerback Patrick Robinson stumbled. Wide open for a 14-yard touchdown, Meredith caught the pass, landed and slid on his back out of the end zone. He settled next to a television camera and waved his right hand — hello! ­— right into the lens.

Of course Cam Meredith was heartbroken.

The Bears trailed by three with 3:43 to play when, on the first snap of the drive, Brian Hoyer threw a hitch route to Meredith. He caught the ball along the field numbers on the right flank, but cornerback Rashaan Melvin popped the ball out with his left hand as Meredith turned upfield. The ball caromed off Meredith’s right thigh and was recovered by the Colts D’Qwell Jackson.

The Bears’ chances to win the game diminished — goodbye! — and Kyle Long put his arm around Meredith before he even reached the sideline.

“I’ve put a lot of hard work in—anytime you get that type of outcome, I’m going to definitely be proud,” Meredith said. “I just wish I could get that one mistake back. But I gotta learn from it going forward.”

Until that moment, Meredith had made the best of his first career start. He finished with nine catches for 130 yards — both team highs —in replacing Kevin White, who was put on injured reserve Wednesday with a left foot problem. He did it in front of family and friends who drove down from Chicago — he’s a St. Joseph High School graduate— and from around Indianapolis, where he lives and trains for a month every offseason.

“Dude, he’s made so many friggin’ plays,” Long said after the 29-23 loss. “We’ve all seen it, from last year to this year, training camp, preseason. You see him shine again (Sunday).

“You can’t get down after one play. There’s five, six, seven plays I’d like to have back. But as a young guy you gotta just keep that confidence up.”

Long suggested that Meredith’s quarterbacking past — he switched to receiver after his redshirt sophomore year at Illinois State — might help him have a short memory.

“That’s tough, but you can’t harp on things in the past,” guard Josh Sitton said. “You can’t do anything about it.”

The fumble can’t define Meredith.

“I just gotta do a better job of catching the ball and putting it away faster,” he said.

Coach John Fox said ball security wasn’t a bugaboo for him — “Obviously we would like for him to have zero,” he said — even though he lost one in Dallas, too.

Both Hoyer and injured quarterback Jay Cutler comforted Meredith after the fumble. Hoyer said it was telling that Meredith got his chance on the very next offensive play — the start of the final drive that ultimately failed — and gained 13 yards.

“Physical stuff like that is going to happen,” Hoyer said. “You just try to build him up. You don’t want him to go in the tank. And I don’t think he did.”

But the fairytale ending didn’t happen either.

Meredith was the intended target on the Bears’ fourth-and-8 pass attempt with 1:02 remaining. With the ball at the Colts’ 28, Hoyer lofted the ball behind his well-covered receiver to seal the loss.

“There’s a lot to be excited about Cam and his role as it goes on, him stepping up,” Hoyer said. “He’s a very talented kid. I know how much cares about it, so I know how much hurts him to have that play. But we’ve all been there before.”

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