Bears celebrate win, top pick in 2024 NFL draft with Panthers loss


CHICAGO — The Chicago Bears closed out the last day of 2023 with plenty to celebrate.

The Bears beat the Atlanta Falcons 37-17 during their final game of the year at Soldier Field, which marked their seventh win of the season and fifth straight at home. After starting the season 2-7, Chicago has won four of its past five games.

Though the victory Sunday was the catalyst of a celebratory postgame locker room where cigars purchased by wide receiver DJ Moore were handed out and enjoyed, it’s not the only thing the Bears have to be excited about entering the new year.

The Panthers’ 26-0 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Arizona Cardinals’ win over the Philadelphia Eagles ensures Carolina (2-14) will finish the season with the worst record in the NFL, meaning the Bears are officially locked into possession of the No. 1 overall pick in the 2024 draft.

The Bears will head into the offseason with the No. 1 selection for a second straight year. Chicago earned the top pick on the last day of the 2022 season and traded it to Carolina on March 10 in exchange for the ninth and 61st overall selections in the 2023 draft, Carolina’s 2024 first-round pick, a 2025 second-rounder and Moore.

Carolina used its No. 1 pick to draft quarterback Bryce Young, who has struggled throughout his rookie season. The trade netted Chicago a career year from Moore (92 catches, 1,300 yards, 8 TDs) and two rookie starters in right tackle Darnell Wright and cornerback Tyrique Stevenson.

“To come here, I feel like the No. 1 overall pick,” said Moore, who was drafted 24th overall by Carolina in 2018.

The wide receiver totaled nine catches for 159 yards and a touchdown against the Falcons. He became the fifth Bears player in franchise history to reach 1,300 yards in a season and the first to reach that mark since Alshon Jeffery in 2013 (1,421).

“Five years in Carolina and then to come here Year 1 and surpass that is amazing,” Moore said of his new career-best marks.

The Panthers lost their first six games of the season and fired first-year coach Frank Reich after a 1-10 start. Carolina entered Sunday having scored in 342 straight regular-season games since Week 13 in 2012, the second-longest active streak in the NFL, behind only the Baltimore Ravens, who are now up to 352.

The Bears earned possession of the No. 1 pick with roughly six minutes remaining in their game against Atlanta. Chicago is currently slated to draft with the first and 10th picks.

“I really don’t give attention to it right now,” coach Matt Eberflus said. “I don’t think we’re picking tomorrow, you know what I mean? So the focus … for you to do your job the right way is you got to be here right now, get your eyes forward for the next thing.”

Eberflus’ tone was similar when asked about a report from NFL Network that he will be back with the Bears in 2024.

“Like I said many times, my eyes are forward on the corrections of this game,” Eberflus said. “I really don’t pay attention to that, and I’m a football coach, right? So I know there’s always going to be noise out there, good or bad, and if you listen to either one of them, guess what — you ain’t doing your job.

“And for me, doing my job is focusing on the men in that locker room and the coaches and the development of the Chicago Bears, and that’s what I’m going to do.”

Chicago’s path in the 2024 draft centers around the quarterback position. Since his return from a thumb injury in Week 11, Justin Fields’ play has improved in a handful of categories and gives the Bears several scenarios to weigh about whether they’ll trade the top pick to garner more draft capital and build around Fields, or use the No. 1 pick to draft a rookie quarterback.

Either way, having the No. 1 overall pick feels different in Chicago this year, given it did not come via the Bears’ own record.

“Obviously in this case, it is good for us, but we’re not celebrating that,” safety Jaquan Brisker said. “We’re celebrating a victory at home, five, six straight in a row. That’s huge for us and having momentum is huge.”

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