Chicago, which held the No. 2 pick entering Week 18, jumped Houston in the draft order after the Texans beat the Indianapolis Colts 32-31. The Bears needed to lose and have the Texans win to secure the top spot in the draft.
A wild fourth-quarter finish that culminated with a 28-yard touchdown catch by Texans tight end Jordan Akins on a fourth-and-20 pass by Davis Mills followed by a successful 2-point conversion from Mills to Akins gave the Texans their third victory of the season and an overall record of 3-13-1.
The win dropped Houston to No. 2 in the draft order. Texans coach Lovie Smith, who coached the Bears from 2004 to 2012, addressed the consequences of the victory postgame and said that the Texans followed through on their game plan for Week 18, which was to win the game.
"This is an option that I had," Smith said. "So, you're saying, 'Hey guys, play in this last game, all that you've been working for your life, you play to win, forget that. Lose the game on purpose.' Like, that will be a hard one to get by. They won't expect me to say that. I didn't. What we work on each week, our game plan, has been to win the game. It's kind of simple as that. That's what we follow through on the day."
The Bears finished 3-14, their second three-win season since 2016, and ended on a franchise-worst 10 game losing streak. Quarterback Justin Fields did not play in the season finale due to a hip injury suffered last week at Detroit. Fields finished his second season 64 yards shy of the single-season quarterback rushing record. Chicago owned the league's top rushing offense and was last in passing in 2023.
Bears coach Matt Eberflus said his focus postgame was on Monday's exit interviews with players, not the team earning the top spot in the draft. But he expressed confidence in Chicago general manager Ryan Poles to build the Bears' roster this offseason. In addition to securing the No. 1 pick, Chicago has seven additional draft choices and north of $108 million in salary cap space to utilize this offseason.
"High confidence, no question," Eberflus said of Poles. "No question. The first thing of a personnel manager is the ability to pick players, and he can do that. The place where he came from, he has shown that this year already, and we look at the guys the same way. We like long, lean, fast, physical players. That's certainly -- we've both have been a part of that in our past, and we're excited about getting that going."
Bolstering the defensive and offensive lines are among Chicago's top priorities this offseason. The Bears registered the fewest sacks per game (1.3) of all NFL teams and pressured opposing quarterbacks on 20.9% of dropbacks, which ranked 31st.
In his latest mock draft, ESPN draft analyst Jordan Reid had Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter going No. 2 to Chicago, followed by Alabama outside linebacker Will Anderson and Texas Tech defensive end Tyree Wilson. All three players could be options to help fix Chicago's pass rush.
Chicago also has pressing needs at wideout. Darnell Mooney, who suffered a season-ending injury in Week 11, finished as the team's leading receiver with 493 yards and two touchdowns. Mooney, Equanimeous St. Brown, Chase Claypool and Velus Jones Jr. are the only Bears receivers under contract for the 2023 season. St. Brown signed a one-year extension with Chicago last week.
"Whoever we [get] needs to make an impact now," Bears rookie safety Jaquan Brisker said in reaction to Chicago earning the top spot in the draft. "Whoever comes in, we're going to turn things around, so have his mentality right. Whoever we get, hopefully it's somebody great. It's time to turn it around. Really don't want to be on the side of having the number one pick, but since we're here, it's that time to make the team better, get the organization better and change this thing around."
The Bears find themselves in a high-leverage position should they decide to trade back. Chicago is not currently among the quarterback-needy teams drafting early in the first round, which include Houston, Indianapolis, the Detroit Lions and Carolina Panthers. Alabama's Bryce Young, Ohio State's C.J. Stroud, Kentucky's Will Levis and Florida's Anthony Richardson are all off the board in Reid's latest mock draft by the ninth overall pick.
Chicago has drafted first overall twice in franchise history, but it hasn't happened since the 1940s.
In 1940, the Bears selected Michigan halfback and Heisman Trophy winner Tom Harmon No. 1 overall. Harmon never played for the Bears. After serving in the military during World War II, he played two seasons for the Rams (from 1946 to 1947).
Chicago also had the No. 1 overall selection in 1947 and drafted halfback Bob Fenimore from Oklahoma A&M (now Oklahoma State). Fenimore played one NFL season and appeared in 10 games for the Bears in 1947.
The NFL has several recent examples of teams falling out of the No. 1 draft spot with wins in the season finale.
Entering the final week of the 2021 season, the Jaguars were 2-14 and the Lions were 2-13-1. Both teams won their Week 18 games, which led to Jacksonville earning the No. 1 pick and Detroit securing the second overall pick. In 2006, the Lions beat the Cowboys in the finale and fell to No. 2 in the draft, while the Raiders got the No. 1 pick. Oakland took JaMarcus Russell with the first pick, and the Lions took Calvin Johnson. In 2003, the Chargers and Cardinals both entered Week 17 with 3-12 records and both walked away with wins. The Chargers still got the No. 1 pick and took Eli Manning before swapping him for Philip Rivers on draft day. The Cardinals would have gotten the No. 1 pick with a loss but fell to No. 3.
ESPN's DJ Bien-Aime contributed to this report.