To paraphrase a former coach, the Bears got off the bus running on Sunday, handing the ball to Kyle Long on their first five offensive snaps against the New England Patriots. Problem was, the bus that is the Chicago offense had very little in the gas tank, making it unable to do too much once it got on the open road.
For the second consecutive week, the Bears were flat offensively in the first half, unable to generate long drives or major yardage. The struggles were part of the reason the team fell behind early and was never able to recover, losing 51-23. The loss marked the fourth defeat in the last five games for Chicago, which is now 3-5 heading into its bye week.
"I thought we played hard and that's what I told our team," coach Marc Trestman said. "I also told our team that we aren't paid to just play the games; we are paid to win the games. So, it wasn't enough. Like I said, we got beat in all three phases. We got out coached in all three phases."
The Bears only ran the ball twice in the first half last week versus Miami, but clearly made giving Forte touches a greater priority against New England. The running back performed well, finishing with 59 rushing yards in the first half and 114 for the entire game. However, those gains did not help Chicago control the time of possession, and more importantly, the scoreboard. None of the team's seven first-half drives went longer than six plays and only one – the second-quarter possession that resulted in a 25-yard touchdown from Jay Cutler to Forte – gained more than 20 yards.
Chicago had possession for 11:22 of the opening half after receiving the opening kickoff. The Bears were trailing 38-7 at halftime.
"We wanted to run the ball, felt like we could run the ball," Cutler said. "Matt still had, I don't know how many yards he had, but he ran really hard. Which is hard when they're scoring at that clip to keep running the ball, keep play action and kind of keep your offense in tact that you planned on."
Turnovers, sloppy play and good defense from the Patriots hurt the Bears early on. New England's physical secondary limited Chicago's downfield passing attack, allowing only a single offensive play of longer than 20 yards in the first half - the touchdown to Forte. Receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery were watched closely by Patriots cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, with the Bears' tandem combining for only two first-half catches, both by Jeffery.
The Bears gained 119 yards in the first half and were penalized for 41 yards on five infractions, which didn't help matters.
Chicago also turned the ball over, with Cutler fumbling a snap that helped New England regain possession during a stretch where the Patriots scored three touchdowns in a 57-second span. The quarterback also had a first-half interception, on a deep heave into the end zone on the final play of the second quarter.
"Just got hit and the ball came out," Cutler said of the fumble. "I was (trying to throw it) at first, and then I was just trying to cover it up."
By the time the Bears offense was all fueled up and ready to go in the second half, the game was already out of reach. Cutler finished with 227 passing yards and three touchdowns, but it was too little, too late. Chicago now enters its week off three games behind first-place Detroit in the NFC North.
The Bears played better in the second after a poor first half versus New England. Can the team's offense do the same after a poor first half to the season as a whole? After a week away, many around the Chicago locker room will be eager to find that out
"We're going to take some time off, obviously, with the bye week, come in tomorrow and watch some film, and collectively, as a whole we have to decide how we want to end this year and how we want to do in this second half," Cutler said. "Do we want to just pack it in and hover around .500, maybe a little bit below, or do we want to use the talent in that locker room to try and make a run for this?"
"We got beat by a really good football team, we have a whole half a season to play and we are going to go back (on Monday) and start over," Trestman added. "And address every situation that we have and all aspects of our football team. And get ready to start this thing up again in a week."