FOXBORO, Mass. - Seven days after a 22-0 preseason-opening loss to the Broncos, Bears starters on both sides of the ball showed marked improvement Thursday night in New England.
The No. 1 offense produced a field goal and a touchdown on its first two possessions, while the first-team defense generated a three-and-out and a takeaway on its first two drives.
"We were disappointed in our performance last week; I think that was pretty well documented," said coach John Fox. "So guys get challenged and they responded. I thought we executed much better really in all three phases."
The quick start enabled the Bears to jump to an 11-0 lead, but the Patriots scored 23 unanswered points—mostly against Chicago reserves—in rallying for a 23-22 victory at Gillette Stadium.
Robbie Gould's 36-yard field goal gave the Bears a 3-0 lead, capping a 10-play, 59-yard drive on the game's opening possession.
Jay Cutler looked sharp on the drive, completing 5 of 6 passes for 63 yards. He connected with Alshon Jeffery for gains of 29 and 12 yards on back-to-back plays. On the first pass, Jeffery leaped high over cornerback Justin Coleman and plucked the ball out of the air.
"It's one-on-one," Cutler said when asked what he saw on the play. "You just kind of give him a chance, give him an opportunity. More times than not he's going to make a play on it, and that's what he did."
After the Patriots went three-and-out, Jeremy Langford's 5-yard touchdown run coupled with Cutler's two-point conversion pass to tight end Rob Housler gave the Bears an 11-0 lead with 2:33 left in the first quarter. Langford burst up the middle for the TD, taking advantage of excellent blocks by right tackle Bobby Massie and right guard Kyle Long.
One play before the score, Langford raced around right end for 34 yards. The 11-play, 64-yard drive also was highlighted by Cutler's 11-yard pass to tight end Tony Moeaki on third-and-11.
After Langford's TD, the Bears held decisive advantage in total yards (138-8), first downs (8-0) and time of possession (11:02-1:29).
Cutler played three possessions, exiting midway through the second quarter after completing 8 of 12 passes for 83 yards and an 86.5 passer rating.
"You're kind of on a pitch count," Cutler said. "You know there are only so many plays for us, so if you don't get started quickly, you're probably not going to get started at all. It was good for us to get down there and overcome a few penalties on our part, get three up there and get another chance to add and put a touchdown in there. So that was good to see."
The Patriots responded by driving the length of the field before the Bears defense produced a huge takeaway. On second-and-goal from the 7, running back Brandon Bolden sprinted around right end. Cornerback Tracy Porter wrapped him up, ripped the ball loose and fell on it at the 5.
"It was big," Porter said. "They were in the red zone about to go in and score, and for us to stop those guys and get the ball back for the offense, that was huge."
New England then scored 17 points in the final 3:52 of the first half, beginning with Stephen Gostkowski's 21-yard field goal.
The Patriots settled for the kick, drawing to within 11-3, after failing to score on back-to-back plays from the 1-yard line. Running back Tyler Gaffney was stopped for no gain by Jonathan Anderson on second-and-goal and was thrown for a one-yard loss by Will Sutton and Terry Williams on third-and-goal.
Backup quarterback Brian Hoyer then replaced Cutler and promptly threw an interception on his first play. Cyrus Jones stepped in front of Joshua Bellamy to pick off the ill-advised pass, returning it 14 yards to the Bears' 15.
The turnover led to LaGarrette Blount's 1-yard TD run, closing the gap to 11-9 with 2:55 left in the half. The Patriots attempted to tie the score with a two-point conversion, but defensive lineman Keith Browner tackled Bolden short of the goal line.
After the Bears went three-and-out, Jimmy Garoppolo completed a 16-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Derby and a two-point conversion toss to Chris Hogan, giving the Patriots a 17-11 lead. With New England opting not to play Tom Brady, Garoppolo connected on 16 of 21 passes for 181 yards and a 117.4 passer rating before being removed in the third quarter.
The Patriots extended their lead to 23-11 with Gostkowski field goals of 29 and 44 yards in the third quarter, giving New England points on five straight possessions.
Housler made a nice play early in the fourth quarter, catching a Hoyer pass over the middle, breaking a tackle and racing 52 yards to the New England 6. But the Bears failed to get into the end zone, turning the ball over on downs on a Hoyer incompletion from the 2.
Hoyer's 23-yard pass to Joshua Bellamy later set up Gould's 36-yard field goal, drawing the Bears to within 23-14 with 6:47 left in the fourth quarter.
The Bears closed the scoring as the clock expired as Connor Shaw lofted a desperation 22-yard TD pass to B.J. Daniels and followed with a two-point conversion pass to Darrin Peterson.