JENSEN: Bears survive sluggish first half, then bury Jaguars in second
BY SEAN JENSEN firstname.lastname@example.org October 7, 2012 9:56PM
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Before kickoff Sunday at EverBank Field, with the sun beating down on them, Bears
players braced for the toll the 88-degree heat and the shortened week would take on them.
‘‘It was a hot one,’’ receiver Brandon Marshall said. ‘‘I’ve lived here almost all my life, and I’m still not used to it.’’
The Bears looked sluggish at the start, especially on offense. But after getting an earful from coach Lovie Smith at halftime, the Bears returned to the field and welcomed a climate change.
‘‘The sun went down,’’ defensive tackle Henry Melton said, ‘‘and the monsters came out.’’
And the Jacksonville Jaguars are sure to have plenty of nightmares.
As the sun descended in the third quarter, the Bears got stronger and stronger. The offense grinded its way to a 17-play, nine-minute drive that Robbie Gould capped with a field goal, and the defense dominated to the tune of two interceptions returned for touchdowns.
‘‘I don’t know how all that happened,’’ Jaguars coach Mike Mularkey said. ‘‘I told the team that I wish I knew what I could say to them afterwards after coming in from a 3-3 tie at the half [and] playing pretty good football. To let it escalate out of control like it did is unfortunate.’’
Forget about style points. The Bears had a brutal turnaround, defeating the Dallas Cowboys on the road on ‘‘Monday Night Football,’’ then heading to Jacksonville for a game six days later.
The Jaguars were 1-3 entering the game, but their losses had come against three teams that entered the weekend at least tied for the lead in their respective divisions. On any day, running back Maurice Jones-Drew is hard to handle. And the Jaguars’ defense embraced the Green Bay Packers’ approach, trying to be physical with the Bears’ receivers and getting after quarterback Jay Cutler.
On the Bears’ first series, cornerback Derek Cox intercepted a pass by Cutler. By the end of the first half, Cutler had completed only 10 of 20 passes for 110 yards.
Smith was none too pleased at halftime.
‘‘He basically cursed us out without cursing,’’ cornerback Charles Tillman said. ‘‘He raised his voice, and he gave that mean, surly, stern look. I think we responded to that.’’
Tillman certainly did, intercepting a pass by Blaine Gabbert with about five minutes left in the third quarter and returning it 36 yards for a touchdown. By the end of the quarter, the Jaguars had run four offensive plays and failed to gain a yard.
It got worse in the fourth. Cutler started to get into a rhythm late in the third, and his first pass of the fourth was a 10-yard touchdown to rookie Alshon Jeffery.
The Bears’ defense forced another punt on the ensuing series, then Cutler highlighted a seven-play, 94-yard drive with a 39-yard pass to Devin Hester and a 24-yard touchdown pass to Marshall. Linebacker Lance Briggs intercepted a pass by Gabbert on the next series and sprinted into the end zone for another 36-yard touchdown.
‘‘It was really the tale of two halves,’’ said Gabbert, who finished 17-for-33 for 142 yards. ‘‘We’ve got to come out in the second half and play better football, and it starts with me. Two pick-sixes in a half, that’s awful.’’
The mood was decidedly more upbeat in the visitors’ locker room.
‘‘Four-and-one, feels good,’’ Melton said. ‘‘But you just can’t get too excited about it. We’ve been in that situation [before]. We were 7-3 last year, and it all kind of crumbled for us.
‘‘But the bye comes at a good time. It’s always good to get a rest.’’