PITTSBURGH — From the moment the Bears drafted quarterback Justin Fields, they hoped he was good enough to offset everything they did wrong.
He almost pulled that off Monday.
Fields rallied the Bears from a two-touchdown deficit to a late one-point lead in the final minutes, but the defense faltered and allowed the Steelers to escape with a 29-27 victory on a 40-yard field goal with 26 seconds left.
After spending most of the night trying to step around the Bears’ many messes, particularly up front, Fields connected with receiver Allen Robinson on a perfect pass down the right sideline for 39 yards with two minutes left, then fired a fastball to Darnell Mooney for a 16-yard touchdown on the next play to put the Bears ahead 27-26 with 1:46 left.
Fields has the ability to overcome many of the Bears’ shortfalls, but he can’t do it all. It’s a lot to ask of a rookie quarterback to learn how to beat NFL defenses and his own team’s ineptitude. And instead of him delivering the first signature victory of his young career, he left Heinz Field with his fourth consecutive loss.
‘‘We fought back to get to a point where a touchdown wins it, and Justin had this smile on his face, like it was his time,’’ Bears coach Matt Nagy said. ‘‘The confidence that gives you as a coach . . . and for him to follow through with that and make those plays, it was a good feeling on the sideline.
‘‘But in the end, we lost. That’s what we care about. We’ve got to figure it out.’’
The Steelers’ final push was problematic from the start, and they were in field-goal range at the Bears’ 32-yard line in only four plays. The Bears stopped quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on a third-and-two run at the 24, but the Steelers were already in good position for Chris Boswell to win it.
‘‘Honestly and truly, we let those guys down,’’ linebacker Roquan Smith said of the Bears’ offense.
Fields forced the issue again at the end and got the Bears to the Steelers’ 47-yard line with two seconds left, but Cairo Santos’ 65-yard field-goal try fell far short.
It was a maddening finish to Fields’ frustrating night.
While he completed 17 of 29 passes for a career-high 291 yards with a touchdown and an interception, he frequently was forced to compensate for the Bears’ errors. They had nearly as many penalty yards (115) as they did rushing yards (136).
A snapshot of the challenge he faced came into focus midway through the first quarter and gave him a rough idea about what to expect for the rest of the night — and, perhaps, for the rest of his Bears tenure.
Step 1 of this particular snafu was Jakeem Grant taking the kickoff from deep in his own end zone to the Bears’ 11-yard line rather than taking it at the 25. Left tackle Jason Peters compounded that problem with a false start on first down, which was a disheartening lapse from the most experienced player on the team.
What Fields did next, on first-and-15 from his own 6, was subtle but exactly the kind of course correction the Bears regularly need. As his protection faltered, he scrambled right for eight yards to make the situation manageable again at second-and-seven.
Then Nagy burned one of his signature first-quarter timeouts, the Bears came out of that break in an illegal formation to lose another five yards and, in the end, punted from their own 15.
It was far from the only time the pieces around Fields let him down.
He propelled the Bears back into the game with a 50-yard heave to Marquise Goodwin down the right sideline early in the third quarter for a rare trip to the red-zone, then fired a fastball to tight end Jimmy Graham for a touchdown a few plays later. That touchdown was nullified by right guard James Daniels being flagged for a low block.
Imagine the exasperation Fields endured to get the Bears’ wayward offense moving and into the end zone, only to see the points wiped out by penalty and suddenly lining up for a second-and-16.
When the Bears go against the better defenses in the NFL — the Steelers have allowed the seventh-fewest points, whereas the 49ers are 25th — the self-sabotage is more frequent and more flagrant.
And until the Bears fix those problems, ranging from Nagy’s mismanagement to general manager Ryan Pace’s misguided moves, the conversation around Fields is going to stay stuck in potential rather than moving on to production. There will be flashes, but nothing sustained.
The Bears made the right call in drafting Fields, but their nonstop dysfunction continues to undermine him.