A Hollywood screenwriter couldn't have scripted a better end to the first half than what the Chicago offense produced in Week 1. Taking over on its own 25-yard line with just :38 remaining, Chicago marched down the field in just three plays. After a scramble and a penalty, Jay Cutler threw a spectacular bomb to Alshon Jeffery for a 54-yard pickup, then followed that up with a dart to Eddie Royal for a 19-yard touchdown with :07 left in the half. The score gave the Bears a four-point lead going into the break in Houston's NRG Stadium.
Momentum didn't carry in the Texas heat. Chicago wasn't able to maintain that lead, eventually losing the season opener to the Texans 23-14. In the game's final 30 minutes, the Bears were unable to sustain the positive vibes they generated from the end of the first half, as both mental errors and physical mistakes took their toll on the unit. Facing a talented Houston defense, the margin for error was slim, and the miscues made by the Bears' offense in the second half were a major reason why the team ultimately came up short.
"I don't know what it was," Royal said when asked about the difference between the first half and the second. "We tried to come out with intensity. We wanted to get points on that first drive and it just didn't happen. Sometimes, it's like that. Got to give them a lot of credit, that is a good defense over there. The Texans played well in the second half."
The issues started right away for the Bears in the second half. On the second snap from scrimmage in the third quarter, Cutler threw an interception on a pass intended for Kevin White. It was a case of miscommunication between a veteran passer and young wide receiver, one that will be reviewed carefully in the coming week during practice and film sessions. In the long run the play will serve as a teachable moment, but versus the Texans, the pick was costly. Houston set up in Chicago territory and eventually kicked a field goal to than three mcut their deficit to 14-13.
Chicago had six second-half offensive drives following the interception, but the team was unable to get past its own 39-yard line on any of them. With a new-look offensive line that had just four practices together before this game, protection schemes were still a work in progress. Cutler was sacked five times in the game – including four in the second half – and was hit 13 times total. Afterwards, the quarterback said he wasn't exactly feeling great after taking the physical punishment he underwent versus the Texans.
"I didn't get hit a lot in preseason, so the last time I've been hit like that was last year," said Cutler, who finished with 216 yards to go along with the touchdown and interception. "Usually, you want to build in to these, and then week four and five, when you've gotten used to it, take a few shots then. I'll bounce back pretty quickly though."
The running game could have taken pressure off of Cutler, but that too struggled to get going after halftime. Chicago finished the game with 20 rushing attempts for 73 yards, though just nine of those carries came in the second half. Jeremy Langford led the way with 57 yards on the ground, including a 15-yard dash off left tackle in the third quarter. None of Langford's other runs gained more than seven yards, and the Bears certainly missed a big-play threat from the ground attack.
By the time Chicago finally got moving in the second half, it was too little, too late. The Bears didn't gain more than one first down on a single drive after halftime until late in the fourth quarter, when the offense was facing a two-score deficit. Cutler hit White for a pair of downfield throws to move the chains, only to follow it up with four straight incompletions as the QB faced a heavy pass rush, resulting in a turnover on downs. After going 75 yards in three plays to end the second quarter with seven points, the Bears finished with 71 net offensive yards on 29 plays after halftime, while being shutout on the scoreboard.
The errors committed by the Chicago offense in the second half were not out of the ordinary for a team the first week of the year, and all were correctable mistakes. The cohesion on the offensive line will get better with familiarity, as will the relationship between a quarterback and his receivers. Not every team the Bears line up against will have the size and speed of the Texans defense.
Chicago couldn't carry over momentum from the first half to the second on Sunday, but the players were confident they could take what they learned in the opener to improve the rest of the year.
"You don't see defenses like (Houston's) week in and week out. Just going to get home with four or five. They're going to play a couple of coverages. It's not that hard, but the guys that they have are really, really good at it," Cutler said. "And we just didn't execute some of the plays we should have. We're going to get better, but I don't want to pin exactly what this offense is going to be or what direction we're going to go until we get a little more involved."