1st-and-10: Darnell Mooney has exponential potential

Blessed with speed, the rookie wide receiver from Tulane has the maturity and polish at 23 to parlay his good fortune into immediate NFL success, with plenty of room for growth.

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Bears wide receiver Darnell Mooney (11) had five receptions for 69 yards against the Saints on Sunday, including this three-yard touchdown catch in the 26-23 overtime loss.

Bears wide receiver Darnell Mooney (11) had five receptions for 69 yards against the Saints on Sunday, including this three-yard touchdown catch in the 26-23 overtime loss.

Nam Y. Huh/AP

When a New Orleans-based reporter asked Bears coach Matt Nagy about Tulane product Darnell Mooney last week, Nagy emphasized the rookie wide receiver’s attention to detail and willingness to maximize Zoom meetings, his ability to learn, his work ethic and his quick acclimation to the big stage.

And almost as an afterthought he added a particularly heartfelt endorsement: “I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about the fact that he’s a heck of a football player, but I’m not sure people understand how good of a dude this guy is. This is a good human being. I’m talking about salt-of-the-earth good people that does things the right way and cares. When you have guys that are like that, it’s awesome. I can’t say enough good things about him.”

The character factor looms even larger for a receiver in Nagy’s offense in light of Javon Wims going haywire in an altercation with Saints cornerback C.J. Gardner-Johnson on Sunday. And even without that incident, Mooney’s maturity and polish as a 23-year-old rookie who gets it is a key factor in his early success with the Bears.

He gives Nagy the consistency and dependability his nuanced offense. Mooney has caught two or more passes in each of his first eight games in the NFL — the only Bears rookie wide receiver to accomplish that since the merger (and maybe forever). Mooney played 65-of-70 offensive snaps (93%) against the Saints on Sunday — a higher percentage than Anthony Miller ever had as a rookie in a better offense in 2018.

With 26 receptions for 305 yards (11.7 avg.) and two touchdowns in eight games, Mooney is not quite a revelation — though his 50-yard reception against the Saints was a breakthrough after Nick Foles missed him on a 50-yard pass against the Buccaneers and on a potential 95-yard touchdown pass against the Rams.

But Mooney’s production as a fifth-round rookie in a 29th-ranked offense on a contending team is uncommon. He’s on a pace for 52 receptions for 610 yards and four touchdowns. That’s as many receptions as Stefon Diggs had as a fifth-round rookie with the Vikings in 2015. And more receiving yards than Tyreek Hill had (593) as a fifth-round rookie in a more established offense with the Chiefs and Alex Smith (and Nick Foles) in 2016.

Mooney’s forte is his speed, but he’s not a one-trick pony. His route-running already is NFL-quality — exhibited on both the 50-yard reception and his three-yard touchdown that was one of the Bears’ most well-executed plays inside the 10-yard line in the Nagy era.

Both plays were rare glimpses of what the Nagy offense can do if it ever reaches full speed. It’s not a coincidence that Darnell Mooney was featured in both of them. He’s the real thing.

2. Have we seen the last of Javon Wims’ in a Bears uniform? Probably not. Wims’ two-game suspension was just and should be upheld, but if his character is as strong as Nagy says it is, he’ll get one more chance.

Though this was Wims’ second strike — he also hit cornerback Prince Amukamara in the helmet in a similar fit of rage in practice last year. And he’s a fringe player, which is a factor. But there’s always intrigue with edgy NFL wide receivers. Sometimes that edge also makes them great, if properly managed.

“I know he’s a good guy,” Mooney said, vouching for his teammate. “It’s an emotional game. But I love him. Whatever happens [in the aftermath], hopefully it’s a positive thing and we can figure out what went on and move forward.”

3. For as uninspiring as the offense was against the Saints, shouldn’t 23 points be enough to win? It usually is. In fact, before Sunday’s 26-23 loss, the Bears had won 11 consecutive games in which the offense produced a net of 23 points or more (with deductions for pick-6s and safeties) — since losing 31-28 to the Dolphins in overtime and 38-31 to the Patriots in back-to-back Weeks in 2018.

The Bears’ offense missed an opportunity to take a 17-3 lead with a touchdown late in the first half, settling for a field goal and a 13-3 lead. But the more egregious lapse was the defense allowing the Saints to drive 68 yards on nine plays in the final 1:34 for a touchdown with three seconds left in the half to cut the Bears’ lead to 13-10 at halftime.

4. Cordarrelle Patterson is looking as ill-fitted for Nagy’s offense as Tarik Cohen, illustrating a universal football truth — gadget guys don’t make a bad offense good. He makes a good offense better.

In the last five games, Patterson has 11 rushes for 18 yards (1.6 avg.) and 10 receptions for 58 yards (5.8 avg.) His season totals aren’t much better: 26 carries for 75 yards (2.9 avg.) and 13 receptions for 78 yards (6.0).

5. Without Drew Brees but with Michael Thomas last season, the Saints gained 424 yards and scored 36 points against the Bears. Without Thomas but with Brees, they gained 394 yards and scored 26 in overtime.

6. Cairo Santos’ three field goals against the Saints, including a tying 51-yarder with 13 seconds left in regulation, gave him 11 consecutive makes, tying Eddy Pinerio for the longest streak since Robbie Gould was cut in 2016. In their last 14 games, Bears place-kickers have made 25-of-27 field goal attempts (92.6%). That’s even better than Gould (20-of-22, 90.9%) in that span.

7. The last-split-second time out that forces kickers to attempt field goals twice in key moments is one of the biggest annoyances in football. But Santos is the latest kicker to say it doesn’t bother him.

“I think it helps, especially when it’s that windy,” Santos said. “I felt the wind had died down, so all I was concerned with was if I had the range. With the wind, 52, 53 in that direction, max, was my pre-game range. So I knew [51 yards] was stretching it if it was really windy. But since it died down, I got the chance to see the first one go in pretty well. I knew I could repeat it.

“I’m lucky I got the chance to do that. But I think it helps when a team does that. If I would call a time out, I would call it before the kicker got a chance to kick it.”

8. Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky in 44 career starts: 85.9 passer rating (54 touchdowns, 32 interceptions), 26-18 record.

Ryan Tannehill’s first 44 games with the Dolphins: 82.8 passer rating (56 touchdowns, 39 interceptions), 22-22 record.

In 20 starts with the Titans, Tannehill; has a 113.3 passer rating and is 14-6, including playoff victories over the Patriots and Ravens.

9. Josh McCown Ex-Bears Player of the Week: Broncos 5-9 cornerback Bryce Callahan had an interception in the end zone against 6-4 Chargers receiver Mike Williams that sparked a rally from a 24-10 deficit to a 31-30 victory Sunday.

Callahan signed a three-year, $21 million contract with the Broncos in free agency, but missed last season because of a bent screw that complicated his recovery from a foot injury he suffered with the Bears in 2018. Healthy again, the 2015 undrafted free agent from Rice is the third highest graded cornerback in the NFL this season, according to Pro Football Focus.

10. Bear-ometer: 10-6 — at Titans (L); vs. Vikings (W); at Packers (L); vs. Lions (W); vs. Texans (W); at Vikings (L); at Jaguars (W); vs. Packers (W).

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