After giving up 21 points on three straight touchdown drives in the first half, the Bears defense held the Vikings to one score in the second half Sunday. Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins' 1-yard go-ahead touchdown with 2:26 to play was the first TD allowed in the second half by the Bears this season.
Through the first five weeks of the season, the Bears defense has given up 80 points in the first half of games compared to 26 points in the second half.
"I think one thing that's already evident is we know how to finish; we just have to finish with better execution," linebacker Nicholas Morrow said Monday. "Any time you lose a game, you're always going to say we've got to execute better, right? And even if you win a game, you might even say there's times when we could execute better.
"But I think what you're starting to see is we find a way to kind of come together as the game goes on. We find a way to finish games. We came back in the game, right? We were down what, 21-3? I mean, I think you see a defense that's hungry and then wants to compete and find ways to compete late in the game and keep us in the game. And I think that's kind of where we've held our hat."
Morrow can't pinpoint why there is such a large disparity between first-half and second-half defense. With the same personnel in the game and the same coaches on the sideline, it's difficult to understand the lack of success in the first 30 minutes.
But Morrow said the defense still needs to find a way to play at a higher level at the start of games and to him, that comes down to better execution and more splash plays.
"Now we've got to find a way to execute earlier in the game, first and second down, first quarter, second quarter, and find ways to make those plays when they're there," Morrow said. "And also, to take the ball away earlier. What, Kindle [Vildor] got his pick in the third or fourth quarter, somewhere around there? I mean, if we can find ways to take the ball away earlier in the game, we can set the offense up with shorter fields."
Sideline morale fuels comeback efforts
Halfway through the second quarter Sunday, the Bears trailed 21-3 after the Vikings' third touchdown on as many drives, a 1-yard pop pass from Cousins to receiver Jalen Reagor. While there were frustrations about Minnesota's early success, Bears players stayed calm and confident rather than hanging their heads.
With two minutes left in the half, the defense generated its first stop of the day, forcing a Vikings punt which landed out of bounds. A Minnesota holding penalty on the punt allowed the Bears to take over at the 50. It then took the Bears just four plays for running back David Montgomery to find the end zone.
Going into halftime trailing 21-10, Montgomery said the morale remained strong, fueling success out of the break.
"Once we got into the locker room for halftime, we all were like 'we can do this, come on,' and when we came out, you saw we were climbing," Montgomery said. "Like I said and like I'm always going to say, I'm telling you, we've got some guys with great morale and some guys who are willing to put it all on the line just to give us a shot to do it. It didn't end the way we wanted it to, but we will get better."
On the other side of the ball, Morrow said "the energy was high." At halftime, the defensive players were able to all sit down together and talk through some adjustments.
Even when the defense was struggling to get off the field in the first half, Morrow said there was no finger-pointing, something he has experienced in the past. But with his current team, Morrow said the conversations were geared toward trying to figure out the issues as a collective. He watched veterans such as safety Eddie Jackson, linebacker Roquan Smith and defensive tackle Justin Jones instill confidence in the group during the low moments.
"First, you got guys like Eddie Jackson, right, who has made so many plays in the NFL and won so many games, in college too as well," Morrow said. "You've got Roquan who has made so many plays. You've got a lot of players that have had success in the league. There's not a guy counting themselves out or counting the team out when it comes to a certain situation. Everyone wants to compete. We know if we get teams in the second half, we know we have a chance. No one was down. No one was in a shell. Everyone was trying to go out there and turn the game around. Honestly, it's what we were thinking about."
Eberflus mindful of short week
The Bears have a quick turnaround this week, with only three days to prepare for Thursday night's matchup with the Commanders. The short week means limited physical preparation to preserve everyone's health.
"You really can't work 'em too hard," coach Matt Eberflus said, "because you think about, you just played a game yesterday. Typically, you bring them in on a Monday, then Tuesday they have off, then Wednesday. So really the Wednesday is the day they play, so to speak, so you really gotta be mindful of that, the rest and health of the players, and we were, leading into the game.
"We were doing that a couple of weeks ago, we shortened down practice, shortened down reps. So we've been mindful of that all the way."
Eberflus said the Bears will conduct walkthroughs Monday and Tuesday, then a "quick, red-zone type practice with helmets on" Wednesday. The key to staying fresh and ready for Washington is enhancing the mental work and focus.
"It's a lot of film study with the players and coaches, players on their own," Eberflus said. "So you gotta be prepared mentally. Because you're already almost in the 48-hour preparation. It's pretty tight and then you do a lot of things on the day of the game. We have some meetings and walk-throughs the day of the game because it is a night game. It's at 7:15. You just try to prepare the guys the best you can in that time frame."
The Bears did not conduct a full practice Monday, but they were required to release an injury report. Had they practiced, cornerback Jaylon Johnson would have been a full participant. The third-year cornerback has missed the last three games with a quad injury. Safety Dane Cruikshank (hamstring) also would have practiced without restrictions, while linebacker Matt Adams (calf) would have been held out of practice.