Bears WR Darnell Mooney frustrated by losses, not dip in statistics

Mooney says he’s not a diva and that this season is about the Bears building their offense, “not about me.” But if he raises his production, it will help the offense pursue its big-picture goals.

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A photo of Bears wide receiver Darnell Mooney diving in the end zone on a touchdown catch against the Falcons.

Mooney caught his second touchdown pass of the season Sunday against the Falcons.


This hasn’t been nearly the season Bears receiver Darnell Mooney was shooting for when he said he was on a mission to make the NFL respect him as one of the best players at his position.

Coming off a breakout 1,000-yard performance last season, Mooney has only 40 catches for 493 yards and two touchdowns. He has been targeted just 61 times, which is the most on the Bears but ranks 44th in the NFL. With six games left, including Sunday at the Jets, he’s on pace to finish short of his 2021 numbers across the board.

In typical Mooney fashion, however, he doesn’t seem concerned about that. He likes the overall trajectory of the offense, his chemistry with quarterback Justin Fields is improving and he understands the Bears are going to lean on their NFL-best ground game.

‘‘With what we’re trying to build, it’s not about me,’’ he said. ‘‘You have some guys that are that diva receiver that always say, ‘Yo, give me the ball, give me the ball.’ But that’s not me.’’

So as the Bears head into the homestretch of the season, Mooney isn’t preoccupied with trying to salvage his numbers. Hitting 1,000 yards again is highly unlikely, given that he would need to average 84.5 per game the rest of the way, and there’s no telling what the offense will look like if Fields misses time with his separated left (non-throwing) shoulder.

There was no mention of any statistics or individual aspirations when Mooney was asked what he hoped to get out of the last six games. He will be a candidate for a contract extension during the offseason because he’ll be heading into the final season of his rookie deal, but what he wants most is to win at least a couple of games.

‘‘I’m tired of losing,’’ Mooney sighed, knowing that’s pretty much all the Bears have done during his three seasons with them. ‘‘It’s annoying. This year, it’s the same old song every week: Get the ball at the end of the game and can’t really put it away. We’ve gotta get over that hump.’’

But Mooney’s performance is intertwined with that of the offense. More production from him will help Fields and the Bears get where they want to go.

That’s true in the long run, too. General manager Ryan Poles has spoken highly of Mooney from the jump, and being able to count on him as a key part of the Bears’ future will put him one step closer to completing the rebuild. If the Bears add a top receiver in the draft or free agency to go with Mooney and newcomer Chase Claypool, that position group would be strong.

In a season such as this one for the Bears, progress often is subtle, but every bit of it is important. So it’s worth noting Mooney and Fields are developing a better connection. After a slow start between them, they had a breakthrough in which they realized they both needed to loosen up a little.

‘‘Everybody was just trying to learn the offense and be perfect for the new offensive coordinator, but you also have to go back to just playing football,’’ Mooney said. ‘‘Stop worrying and thinking too much. That makes you miss opportunities.’’

Now, instead of fixating on landmarks during passing routes, Fields and Mooney are playing more naturally. It’s more about Fields knowing Mooney’s speed than either aiming for a particular spot.

After a combined four catches for 27 yards in the first three games, Mooney has averaged 4½ catches and 58.3 yards per game since — modest, but close to what he produced last season.

If he can take another step forward, it’ll move him closer to what he really wants: success. The Bears are almost certainly going to be an underdog in every game the rest of this season, but any growth by Mooney the rest of the way will help make victories more attainable next season.

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