For 45 minutes on Sunday afternoon, the Bears defense was lights out. The unit recorded an interception on its first drive, then forced the Jacksonville Jaguars to punt the following five times they held the ball. Chicago's defense allowed just one first down in the second quarter and then zero in the third. In those two quarters, Jacksonville had a total of 27 net yards. And most importantly, the Jaguars had a big, fat zero next to their name on the Soldier Field scoreboard when the clock expired to end the third quarter.
Then it all switched. The lights that had been out in the opening 45 minutes of the game were suddenly too bright for the Chicago defense. During the fourth quarter, the Bears allowed three Jacksonville scoring drives in a 12-minute span, unraveling all of the positives from earlier in the game. By failing to finish strong, the Bears dropped the game by a score of 17-16, and fell to 1-5 on the season. In three of the five defeats, Chicago has held a lead in the fourth quarter but was unable to hold on.
"Our job is to keep playing defense and that is what we will continue to do," linebacker Willie Young said. "When we get the consistency down and finish the game, we'll be in good shape."
Finishing has been a problem for the defense all season long. The Bears have now allowed 59 fourth-quarter points in six games, far and away the highest scoring quarter for Chicago's opponents. The Jaguars took full advantage, coming from behind in those final 15 minutes thanks to some strong play of their own but also some Bears miscues.
The tide actually began to turn at the end of the third quarter. On third-and-7 from the Chicago 47, with less than a minute to go in the period and Chicago leading 13-0, Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles threw incomplete to running back T.J. Yeldon, likely leading to a punt. However the Jacksonville drive was extended because of a roughing the passer call on Young, who grazed the quarterback's helmet with his arm during the throw. The automatic first down as a result of the penalty gave the Jaguars new life. On the very next play, Bortles threw downfield to Allen Hurns for a 29-yard gain to the Chicago 3. Following another penalty - and the start of the fourth quarter - the Jaguars found pay dirt for the first time all game on a 1-yard Chris Ivory run, making the score 13-7 Bears.
The next time the Jaguars had the ball, following a Bears punt, it appeared that the momentum would sway back Chicago's way. Bortles dropped back to throw, but the third-year quarterback didn't see Young swooping in behind him. The Chicago linebacker rattled Bortles, knocking the ball loose. Akiem Hicks fell on it, giving the Bears the ball on the Jaguars' 28-yard line. The Bears offense turned that takeaway into three points, extending the lead to 16-7.
But the Jaguars got those three points back on their very next drive, and then their defense forced a three-and-out. Bortles took back over, down six points, with 3:18 remaining. He didn't need that much time. On Jacksonville's fourth play of the drive, the quarterback connected with wide receiver Arrelious Benn in single coverage. Chicago cornerback Tracy Porter slipped on the turf and Benn ran by him, going 51 yards for the go-ahead touchdown. Though it was Benn's first touchdown since 2011, the score was an all too familiar sight for the Chicago defense.
The Chicago offense was unable to mount a scoring drive of its own, and it was déjà vu all over again for the Bears.
"We have to find ways to finish games, but there's no excuses. None," said safety Harold Jones-Quartey. "We have to find a way to finish games. I think we started off strong, I don't think we got comfortable. We kept fighting, we prepared phenomenally. We just have to find a way to make those critical plays at the end of the game to win the game."
The stats show some positive signs for the Bears defense. Jacksonville failed on 8-of-10 third down conversions, while only averaging 2.7 yards per rushing attempt. Chicago forced two turnovers and held its opponent to only 55 offensive plays (the Jaguars averaged 65 plays per game in their first four contests.)
But the 17 points allowed by the Bears in the final quarter were the most points given up by the team in any quarter since December 4, 2014, when Dallas scored 21 third-quarter points. That stat alone overshadows everything else the team did, and the players in the huddle know it.
"This is a violent sport we play, a physical sport," Young said. "So every day we show up, we have to be ready to rock and roll. We have to capitalize on every opportunity we have. We have to seize those moments and keep the pedal to the metal when we're in the lead. That's offensively, defensively, special teams. All of it can be better."