You know what they say about waking a sleeping giant, right? How about waking a sleeping Bear? That can be just as dangerous.
After a slow and sloppy first half by the Bears that saw them tied with the lowly Jaguars, 3-3, at intermission, the team rallied and scored 38 unanswered points to put away the game.
During halftime of every Bears game, WBBM 780’s Zach Zaidman — sideline reporter for the Bears radio network — catches up with Bears head coach Lovie Smith for a few questions on the way into the locker room. After hearing the agitation in Smith’s voice, I sent a text to my brother, which read, word for word:
“Lovie was pissed heading into half in his convo with ZZ. You could hear it in his voice. And he’s not much of an emotional guy. I say Bears come out of halftime with a renewed sense of passion and take it up a notch.”
I’m by no means a prognosticating genius (any of you who follow my weekly predictions can verify that). It’s just that we’ve heard a handful of times over the past nine years of Smith having to go into the locker room at halftime and light a fire under his team’s collective backsides. And most times he has done that, it has worked.
Said Bears cornerback Charles Tillman: “He basically cursed us out without cursing. He raised his voice and gave us that mean, surly, stern look. We responded to that. He put a little spark under our rear end. We started playing.”
Who says Smith can’t make halftime adjustments? That’s the biggest type of adjustment a coach can make; changing the tenor of a game.
Things changed dramatically after halftime. The Bears went on a 17-play drive — yep, 17 plays — to open the third quarter that resulted in a Robbie Gould 31-yard field goal. If not for two consecutive Gabe Carimi false starts inside the 10, it may have concluded with a touchdown.
On the next drive, Tillman intercepted Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert and returned it 36 yards for a touchdown to put the Bears up 13-3. After a Jaguars three-and-out on the next series, Jay Cutler led the offense on another long drive which concluded with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffery. Jeffery left the game with a hand injury after the score.
After another short, stalled drive to open the fourth quarter for the Jaguars, the Bears took possession of the ball at their own 6-yard-line. After five Matt Forte runs for 31 yards and a beautiful diving catch by Devin Hester for 39 yards, Cutler connected with Brandon Marshall for a 24-yard touchdown.
As if a 27-3 score wasn’t big enough, the Bears kept the foot on the pedal on the Jaguars’ ensuing possession when Brian Urlacher smothered Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew on a short pass over the middle. The ball deflected into the hands of Lance Briggs who took it to the end zone 36 yards for a score.
The coincidence of Tillman and Briggs both having pick-sixes of exactly 36 yards pales in comparison to the fact that both had pick-sixes a week ago against Dallas. It was the first time in NFL history that teammates have achieved the feat, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Somewhere, Jerry Angelo — the man who drafted Tillman and Briggs in consecutive rounds in the 2003 NFL Draft — is smiling.
Finally, just for good measure, the Bears pulled Cutler, Marshall, and Forte out of the game in the middle of their next drive as sort of a curtain call. Bears third-string running back Armando Allen stepped in and carried the ball five straight times for 59 yards culminating in a 46-yard touchdown run.
While many in the Twitterverse were panicking about the early struggles, I knew the Bears were not in trouble.
One fan tweeted this to a member of the Chicago media in the first half: “This Jags team seems more competent than advertised.”
To which, the media member responded: “Told y’all it won’t be a cakewalk.”
Really? Care to revise that statement in hindsight? That turned out to be more than a cakewalk. The Jaguars went from a simple sparring partner in the first half to a punching bag in the second. If we’ve learned anything about these Bears, it’s that they won’t be pushovers and it’s much too early to be counting them out when things aren’t going their way.
Cutler had his second-straight solid performance with 292 yards, two touchdowns and one interception on 23 of 39 passing. He looked poised and comfortable in the pocket because his offensive line was giving him protection for the second straight week.
Forte finished with 107 yards on 22 carries and the team rushed for 214 net yards on 33 rushing plays, for an average of 6.5 yards per carry.
Marshall was as good as advertised in the passing game, catching 12 passes for 144 yards and a score. According to David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune, Marshall became the first Bears wide receiver since Marcus Robinson in 1999 to gain at least 100 yards in back-to-back games, and no receiver since Marty Booker in 2002 has caught at least 10 passes in a game.
As a result of Marshall’s big game, no other receiver had more than two receptions, but, really, who cares? Hester, Michael Bush, Kellen Davis, Forte, and Jeffery all had two receptions and Dane Sanzenbacher added one.
The fact that the defense scored twice for the second-straight week sort of softened the fact that the Bears offense somewhat quietly accumulated an astounding 501 yards of total offense. Minus Marshall’s touchdown reception and Hester’s diving catch, the offense didn’t exactly throw deep. It was simply systematic dismantling of an inferior opponent, exactly as you would expect one of the league’s top teams to perform in such a situation.
The Bears now head into the bye week with a 4-1 record and are tied for first in the NFC North with the Minnesota Vikings. They have some very winnable games to finish out Lovie’s proverbial “second quarter” of the season. They’ll be at home against the Lions on Oct. 22 and against the Panthers on Oct. 28, and then will be on the road at Tennessee on Nov. 4.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here because any team can win on any given Sunday, but 7-1 at “halftime” of the season is not out of the question. A 6-2 record certainly seems doable, but you can’t win the sixth until you win the fifth and the Bears will have two weeks to prepare for the Lions.