HOUSTON – The Bears charged out of the gate in Sunday's season opener at NRG Stadium in Houston, but they faltered down the stretch and limped across the finish line.
The Texans earned a trip to the winner's circle by outscoring the Bears 13-0 in the second half to turn a 14-10 deficit into a 23-14 victory before a franchise-record crowd of 71,933.
"They came out and they wanted it more in the second half," said guard Kyle Long. "And wanting it more can show in a multitude of ways. Whether it's attention to detail, focus or finish, we need to be better, and it starts with me and goes on down the line."
The Bears defense opened with a bang as Tracy Porter intercepted Brock Osweiler on the game's first possession by ripping the ball away from DeAndre Hopkins at the Chicago 22.
The Bears converted the turnover into a 7-0 lead as Jeremy Langford powered up the middle for a 1-yard touchdown run with 6:58 left in the first quarter.
View photos from the game as the Bears take on the Texans at NRG Stadium in Houston.
But the same offense that marched 75 yards and picked up five first downs on its first drive mustered a total of just 71 yards and four first downs over seven possessions in the second half.
Jay Cutler completed 16 of 29 passes for 216 yards with one touchdown, one interception and a 76.2 passer rating. The Bears quarterback was sacked five times, with three coming after the Texans had taken a 20-14 lead early in the fourth quarter.
Receivers Alshon Jeffery (four catches for 105 yards) and Eddie Royal (four catches for 57 yards and one TD) both produced key plays, but they did most of their damage in the first half.
The Bears defense played well at times, especially forcing the Texans to settle for three Nick Novak field goals. But the unit allowed Houston to convert 12-of-20 third-down opportunities (60 percent), enabling the Texans to sustain drives and dominate time of possession 36:19-23:41.
Chicago's offense, on the other hand, was successful on just 4-of-13 third-down chances (31 percent), including 2-of-8 in the second half (25 percent).
"Third down was critical," said coach John Fox. "What really made a difference in the game is that they were able to convert a higher percentage of their third downs than we were."
The Bears had a chance to pad their 7-0 lead on their second possession, but Cutler was stopped for no gain on a fourth-and-one sneak at the Texans' 31. Cutler fumbled the snap from rookie center Cody Whitehair, picked up the ball and was tackled immediately.
The Texans scored the next 10 points, closing the deficit to 7-3 on Novak's 28-yard field goal early in the second quarter before taking the lead on Osweiler's 23-yard TD pass to Hopkins in the left back corner of the end zone with 3:14 left in the half.
Houston had a chance to widen the margin on its next possession when rookie receiver Will Fuller slipped behind the Bears defense on a deep pass pattern. But Fuller dropped a perfect throw from Osweiler that could have resulted in an 83-yard touchdown.
The Bears followed by taking a 14-10 lead on Cutler's 19-yard TD pass to Royal with :07 left in the half, capping a three-play, 75-yard drive that took just :31.
"We had a chance to take a shot at the end zone and still had enough time to kick just in case," Fox said. "I thought we executed very well at the end of the half."
Jeffery put the Bears in position to score by outleaping safety Andre Hal to haul in a 54-yard pass from Cutler.
"I didn't do anything there," Cutler said. "I just pumped one high and far, and Al did the rest. That's going to happen from time to time. We like the matchup with him. In the second half, they did a better job of trying to take him away, of rolling some coverage over him."
Hal redeemed himself on the second play of the second half, however, when he dove to intercept a Cutler pass over the middle and returned it 12 yards to the Chicago 25. It appeared that receiver Kevin White stopped running on the play, leading to the turnover.
The Bears forced the Texans to settle for Novak's 28-yard field goal, closing the gap to 14-13. The kick was deflected by Sherrick McManis, but still had enough steam to make it over the crossbar.
Fuller also avenged his earlier miscue, turning a screen pass into an 18-yard TD that gave the Texans a 20-14 lead with 12:44 remaining in the fourth quarter. The rookie receiver earlier had sustained the drive with a 27-yard reception on third-and-four.
After Novak's 38-yard field goal made it 23-14 with 6:10 to play, the Bears offense continued to struggle, failing to cross the 50 on its final two possessions.
"We just really couldn't get the drives started like we wanted to, a lot of three-and-outs," Langford said. "As an offense we've got to get better and create longer drives. That will help us out."