- Michael C. Wright, ESPN Staff Writer
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith blocked out the hows and whys of his team’s sluggish three-point opening half, knowing that, ultimately, what’s important is how the team finished Sunday in rocking the Jacksonville Jaguars for 38 unanswered points in the second half of a 41-3 slaughter.
Smith admitted the 88-degree temperature at kickoff might have been a factor in the slow start, but other than that the first two quarters came as somewhat of a surprise to the coach.
“We didn’t play well. I don’t know the reason why,” Smith said. “We had an excellent practice. We talked about it, but sometimes that’s how it happens. They don’t crown a winner after the first half. You have to play that second half, and I just like where the guys had to fight; where we had to fight back and finish strong in that second half.”
The Bears certainly did that.
In addition to scoring two touchdowns on defense with interception returns from Charles Tillman and Lance Briggs and another pair of TDs on Jay Cutler touchdown passes, the defense totally dominated the Jaguars, which early on experienced a small degree of success.
The Jags racked up 144 yards of net offense through the first two quarters, but the Bears stiffened on defense, limiting the home team to just 45 yards in the second half. Jacksonville held possession for just 8 minutes and 21 seconds in the second half, after winning the time of possession battle in the first two quarters with a 15:39 to 14:21 advantage over the Bears.
In the third quarter, the Bears ran 25 plays on offense while Jacksonville ran four. More impressive is the fact the Bears kept possession for 21 minutes and 39 seconds in the third and fourth quarters, which isn’t possible if the club isn’t converting on third down.
The Bears converted just 2 of 7 on third down in the first half, but moved the chains on third down in the second half on 8 of 10 attempts, to finish the game having converted 10 of 17 third downs.
“It’s one thing to do all right on a drive for half of a drive, then you get a penalty or you get backed up and it takes you out of field-goal range,” said running back Matt Forte, who rushed for a game high 107 yards on 22 attempts. “So we can’t do stuff that kills drives, you know? That’s what happened in the first half. We would drive the ball down, then jump offsides or get a holding call or something like that. So those killed drives on third down.”
Defensively, the Bears allowed Jacksonville to convert 5 of 9 on third down in the first two quarters. The Jags never converted another third down in four more tries in the third and fourth quarters.
“We weren’t as sharp as we needed to be,” Smith said of the team’s first-half performance. But thank God we play two halves.”
Bears receiver Brandon Marshall marveled at how the team kept its composure despite a first half in which things seemed to unravel. Upon entering the locker room at halftime, Smith said he made sure to “just (let) everyone know exactly how we play. We didn’t have to say an awful lot. Guys were anxious to get some things corrected and get back out there in the second half.”
After catching four passes for 44 yards through the first two quarters, Marshall reeled off eight grabs for 144 yards in the second half.
“A bad half; it was not Bear football,” Marshall. “We started off slow in all three phases. But we came into the locker room at the half, kept our cool and composure. We wanted to come out and play up to our potential.”