6 things we heard from Chicago Bears players, including why Montez Sweat would love to see coach Matt Eberflus return

The Chicago Bears ended their season Sunday with a 17-9 loss to the Green Bay Packers that dropped them to 7-10 and kept them in last place in the NFC North.

The sting of that final stumble still was lingering Monday as players packed up their lockers, met with higher-ups for exit interviews and headed into their offseasons.

But players also expressed pride in the collective improvements they made as the Bears more than doubled their victory total from 2022 and played a more competitive brand of football down the stretch.

Here are six things we learned inside the Halas Hall locker room Monday as the organization weighs big-picture changes for 2024, most notably with their coaching staff and quarterback situation.

1. Defensive end Montez Sweat would love to see Matt Eberflus return as Bears coach.

As Bears leaders weigh whether they will retain Eberflus for a third season, a couple of players offered their thoughts on what the coach accomplished in 2023 as the Bears improved from a 3-14 season a year ago.

Sweat joined the Bears from the Washington Commanders for the final nine games this season and became the first player in NFL history to lead two teams in sacks in the same season. He had six with the Bears and 6 1/2 with the Commanders.

Sweat felt like he fit in both on and off the field, including with a locker room he said felt “family-oriented” — so much that he said he wished he had “a little bit more time” to get to know his new team before heading into the offseason.

When asked whether he would like the Bears to prioritize continuity and bring back Eberflus, Sweat said, “Oh, yeah. Love Flus.”

“Smart. He’s innovative. He listens to his players,” Sweat said. “And he trusts his gut and he trusts his players. I’d love to see Flus back.”

Linebacker Jack Sanborn, who played his first two NFL seasons under Eberflus, commended the coach for “staying the course” during a rough first couple of months this season.

“He never wavered, never changed,” Sanborn said. “I think he maybe saw it before any of us saw it and didn’t change throughout the rough times or the good times. Because it was ugly at times. It was bad. We were playing bad ball. We weren’t executing. We weren’t playing good.

“And then it kind of changed. I think the guys in this locker room could feel that. I think everyone else could feel that. That’s what makes yesterday so tough — such an important game, against that team. Just wanted to finish the season how we wanted.”

2. Wide receiver DJ Moore spoke his mind in his exit interview.

Moore already had met with general manager Ryan Poles and Eberflus on Monday morning when he talked with reporters, and he said he provided input on what’s ahead for the team.

“Just to have a voice in it is pretty good,” Moore said.

Moore has been a consistent supporter of Justin Fields as the Bears decide whether to keep Fields as their starter or draft a quarterback. And Moore said he brought up Fields to team leadership.

“He’s the quarterback of the Chicago Bears until otherwise,” Moore said. “And I don’t think that’s changing anytime soon. We’ll see.”

Moore had a career-high 96 catches for 1,364 yards and eight touchdowns in his first season with the Bears and Fields. He said it would be “amazing” to have Fields back and pointed to the uncertainty of bringing in a rookie.

“Nobody really wants to start all the way over and either have a losing season again,” Moore said, “or maybe (like Cincinnati Bengals quarterback) Joe Burrow, you could have that kind of season. You never know. It’s hit or miss. We’re going to have to wait and see.”

Another part of the decision-making process will be whether to bring back offensive coordinator Luke Getsy. After Sunday’s game, Moore was asked about his level of belief in Getsy.

“I think it’s fine,” Moore said. “It just comes down to us being explosive on the offensive side. We’ve got the players to do it. We’ve got our quarterback to do it.

“Everything else, just need to call the plays that put us in position to have explosives down the field or catch-and-runs like we did today. We’ve just got to be an explosive team and not a team that’s just behind the sticks.”

3. Kicker Cairo Santos is proud of all he achieved in a productive season.

Santos’ first field goal Sunday was from 50 yards into the wind on a chilly January afternoon in Green Bay. It was Santos’ seventh make from 50 yards or longer in eight attempts this season, evidence his work during the 2023 offseason to improve his ball striking on long kicks paid dividends.

“It was so much fun hitting all those long fields goals this year,” Santos said Monday.

He admitted there was a little bit of prayer and exaggerated body language involved in Sunday’s 50-yarder, which kissed the upright before dropping through.

“I didn’t hit my best ball,” Santos said. “But it found a way to get some help and go in. So that right there, even when I’m not striking my best ball and they still find a way to go in from 50-plus, it was really exciting. It’s the work that I want to continue to do this offseason.”

Santos’ final field goal Sunday, from 35 yards in the fourth quarter, was his 35th of the season, setting a single-season franchise record. It also allowed him to finish with 92.1% accuracy, his third season above 90% with the Bears.

4. Veteran tight end Marcedes Lewis plans to keep playing in 2024.

Lewis just finished his 18th season. He’ll turn 40 this spring. As he cleaned out his locker Monday at Halas Hall, he had zero intention of considering retirement.

“I’m rolling,” he said. “It’s always been mentally (driven) for me. And my mental fortitude is something I lean on and I can hang my hat on. The stuff I put on film this year is stuff I can be proud of. And it’s crazy because I’ll be 40 in May, but when you watch the film, it doesn’t look like it.”

Lewis’ leadership was valuable to the Bears this season. His veteran perspective is also helpful in sorting through the team’s improvement. He labeled this an “arrow up” team Monday and appreciated the growth it showed all year, which he felt was fueled by chemistry and collective drive.

“At the end of the day, you’re going to have your dudes who are the leaders and then you’re going to have the guys who are going to follow those leaders,” Lewis said. “And I think we did a really good job with whoever the leaders were led. And whoever the guys who were trying to figure it out followed the leaders. I just felt like it was a really good marriage.”

Lewis’ contract with the Bears expires in March, but he would be interested in returning in 2024 and helping this team continue what it started.

“Obviously we didn’t finish the season like we wanted to yesterday,” he said. “But we found a groove and it felt good to be in that groove. Returning for training camp next year will be different. It’s going to look different. The expectations are going to be different. (We’re) raising the bar. That’s what this is all about.”

5. Rookie cornerback Tyrique Stevenson was thankful for the support that aided his growth this season.

Stevenson forced a fumble by Packers quarterback Jordan Love late in the third quarter Sunday, his latest contribution to the Bears’ season total of 28 takeaways. He also had four interceptions — tied for the team lead — and was the NFC defensive player of the week in Week 17.

Stevenson credited the defense’s cohesion for a late-season takeaway binge. He also credited Eddie Jackson, Jaylon Johnson and Jaquan Brisker for helping him develop through an up-and-down rookie season.

“This is the best secondary group I’ve been with,” Stevenson said. “I’ve never been with a group of guys more eager to go out there and make plays and shine. … I would say they helped elevate my game a little faster than I thought it was going to.”

6. Bears assistant general manager Ian Cunningham is being pursued in this hiring cycle.

The Commanders reportedly have requested an interview with Cunningham to become their head of football operations.

Cunningham joined Poles’ staff in January 2022 after 14 years in the front offices of the Philadelphia Eagles and Baltimore Ravens. He was the Eagles director of player personnel before taking the Bears assistant GM job.

He interviewed with the Tennessee Titans and Arizona Cardinals a year ago. The Cardinals offered him their GM job, but he turned it down because of the “fit within the organization,” CBS Sports’ Jonathan Jones reported.