The rain was falling at Soldier Field on Sunday, and it looked like the Bears offense was stuck in mud. In the first 30 minutes of the Week 12 game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Chicago had three first downs and zero points on the scoreboard. Quarterback Jay Cutler completed 56 percent of his passes, but only had 72 passing yards to show for it. And that was the effective part of the Bears offense, as the run game had just 14 yards on seven carries entering the halftime break.
But as the weather worsened in the second half, the Bears' play improved. It was far from an offensive masterpiece, but the unit did enough well to be a key part of Chicago's 21-13 comeback victory, its second consecutive home win.
So what changed between the first half and the second? The Bears offense went to a run-dominant playbook, allowing the offense to control the ball and the clock following the halftime break. And the team's defense delivered, forcing turnovers on three straight Tampa drives, giving the Chicago offense improved field position and the ability to turn the game around.
"When you get the ball at the (opposing) 40-yard line, or below, you have to find a way to put at least three (points) and we work for seven (points) every time," said left tackle Jermon Bushrod. "Everything wasn't perfect in the second half, but we minimized our mistakes and we finished. We ran the ball and did what we were supposed to do, and that's why we came out with the (win)."
The commitment to the run made a difference in the second half. Chicago called 21 passing plays in the first half, compared to just the seven runs. After the break, that balance was completely flipped, as the Bears ran the ball 19 times after halftime and only dropped back to pass on nine snaps.
The Bears finished with 92 yards on 26 carries, good for 3.5 yards per attempt.
Much of the work went to running back Kyle Long, who finished with 89 rushing yards on 23 carries. Forte also had two touchdowns, just 1:49 apart from each other in the third quarter, which made the decisive difference in the final score for the Bears.
Forte said that at the halftime break, the team's coaches made a clear point: despite playing a poor half of football early on, the team was only down 10 points. If they could get back to basics and correct some mistakes, a comeback was within reach.
"(The slow start) was all on us, with penalties backing us up and not executing little nuances of the play," the running back said. "We just had to go out there, execute the plays and drive the ball down the field."
The offense was aided by some strong field position, thanks to the opportunistic Bears defense in the third quarter. Following a fumble and an interception, Chicago started a pair of drives inside the Buccaneer 15-yard line. Forte turned both of those turnovers into touchdowns, scoring from 13- and 1-yard out.
Members of the offense said the field position wasn't the only thing the Bears defense provided them. The turnovers also gave the unit some momentum heading into the game-winning scores.
"Momentum is so big in sports, and anytime you can get a defensive turnover with a short field, it really benefits your offense," right guard Kyle Long said. "Matt's solid, he's somebody who can always do his job and we can rely on him to do the things he needs to do."
The two-touchdown performance was not the only noteworthy accomplishment for Forte on the afternoon. With 112 yards from scrimmage, Forte eclipsed the 1,400 total yards mark on the season, the seventh straight time he's reached that benchmark since entering the league. Only two other players in NFL history – LaDainian Tomlinson and Curtis Martin – have ever had 1,400 yards from scrimmage in each of their first seven seasons.
Forte also joined Tomlinson as the only players with 800-plus rushing yards and 40 or more receptions in each of their first seven years in the league.
"It's great to be in company with those guys, those players are Hall of Famers," Forte said. "I aspire to be like that one day, so hopefully when I'm done playing in a bunch more years, I can be like that too."
With more performances like he had on Sunday, Forte may be on his way to Canton. And if the Bears can duplicate their Sunday second-half performance – on both sides of the ball – the team may avoid being stuck in the mud the rest of the way.