CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Jay Cutler stuffed a hand in one pocket at the podium and readied for the storm of questions about to rain down in the visitors’ locker room at Bank of America Field in the aftermath of the Chicago Bears giving one away.
Leading 24-21 in the fourth quarter on Sunday, Chicago watched its advantage disintegrate as a result of committing turnovers on back-to-back possessions over a span of 1 minute, 39 seconds. Carolina converted those turnovers into 10 points en route to a 31-24 triumph. The giveaways serve as a small snapshot for what appear to be larger issues for Chicago’s supposedly vaunted offense, which has been outscored 34-3 in the second half of its past two outings -- both losses.
“Pretty frustrating,” Cutler said. “There were many opportunities for us to close this out offensively. We put our defense in a bad spot. I thought they played really well given the circumstances and some of the field position we put them in. Offensively, a lot of that is on me. We’ve just got to play better.”
Chicago stormed to a 21-7 lead with 10:51 left in the second quarter when Cutler hit Alshon Jeffery for a 25-yard touchdown, and at that point it looked as though the Bears might run away with the game.
Then halftime hit, which for the Bears these past two weeks is akin to disaster.
The Bears ripped Carolina for 235 yards in the first half, but managed just 112 yards in the second half with two turnovers and a third-down conversion rate of 16.7 percent. Going into Sunday, the Bears had turned over the ball only once in the fourth quarter through the first four outings, yet managed to do that on back-to-back possessions to throw away this contest.
“I think that we’ve struggled at times, and that’s the thing we’ve got to focus on. We’ve had a lot of very consistent moments, and then we’ve gone inconsistent,” coach Marc Trestman said. “We have the last two weeks, certainly in the second half. So it’s something that we’ve got to continue to work on and get better at. We still haven’t put four quarters together. We’ve put some good quarters together, but we haven’t put four quarters together yet.”
Cutler has led nine second-half drives over the past two weeks with three drives ending with interceptions. One drive concluded with a turnover on downs, while three more ended with punts. Two other drives finished with fumbles, including Matt Forte’s with 4:29 left to play which set up Cam Newton’s game-winning 6-yard touchdown pass to Greg Olsen.
Forte said the offense needs to develop “a mindset” that will help it to finish games, and admitted “we’ve got to stop” turning over the ball.
“It’s not like we’re out there being careless with the football,” he said. “Sometimes balls get tipped and guys make good plays out there. They get paid to play football, too. In my case, especially in a crucial situation like that, I can’t let go of the ball.”
Cutler said the ball “just got away from me,” adding that “high and over the middle of the field is never good. It happened twice today.”
For Chicago to reverse what’s becoming a disturbing trend of futility in the second halves of games, that needs to stop, and the team needs to find a way to adjust offensively to the opponent’s halftime adjustments.