By Chris Emma–
HOUSTON (CBS) — With his tie knotted clean, the pads unstrapped to his side and a 23-14 loss under his belt, Bears receiver Alshon Jeffery still had his game face on Sunday afternoon.
Jeffery wore the look of conviction on his face as if offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains called his number for a deep route. Normally soft spoken, Jeffery then spoke out.
“The only one to stop us is us,” Jeffery said after the loss to the Texans. “They didn’t do anything special. Give them credit, they got a hell of a defense, a hell of a quarterback, receivers and stuff. But the only one to stop us is us.”
NRG Stadium’s gigantic scoreboard didn’t tell the entire story of the Bears’ season-opening loss. The visitors owned the lead for the first three quarters of the game. The defense forced a stop on Brock Osweiler’s first drive as Texans quarterback, then Jay Cutler led the Bears to the end zone.
With 38 seconds in the first half and the Bears trailing 10-7, coach John Fox rolled the dice and Loggains called the shots on a beautiful scoring drive, which was highlighted by a 54-yard reception by Jeffery and capped by a Cutler bullet to Eddie Royal to a touchdown.
“I thought we executed very well,” Fox said.
Then came halftime, and the game changed. Momentum shifted when Kevin White ran the wrong route and Jay Cutler was intercepted early in the third quarter.
Credit Texans coach Bill O’Brien and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, whose adjustments made the difference. Houston came with an aggressive blitz that challenged Chicago’s reshuffled offensive line.
J.J. Watt wasn’t even the Texans’ best pass rusher on Sunday. That was Whitney Mercilus, the player former Bears coach Lovie Smith wanted when Phil Emery drafted Shea McClellin.
When it was all said and done, Cutler was sacked five times and pressured many more. He took a beating.
“I don’t feel great,” Cutler said.
Year 2 of the Fox era in Chicago began with plenty of lessons. Corrections are needed across the board, but there’s potential in place. Week 1 was simply a reminder that this team needs time for growth.
Making his NFL regular-season debut, White ran the wrong route on the second play of the second half, stopping short on an out. Cutler was intercepted and the Texans would get three points out of it. To his credit, Cutler refused to place any blame on White afterward.
Newly signed guard Josh Sitton looked impressive, but the rest of the offensive line left plenty to be desired. Fox is hoping reps in practice will make the difference.
Defensively, the Bears must make adjustments to get off the field on third down, as the Texans were 12-of-20 on such conversions Sunday.
“Every third down is huge,” Bears defensive lineman Mitch Unrein said. “That’s the biggest thing to having a good defense is getting off the field on third down.”
Sunday showed that the Bears have a lot of work to do, but there is also promise. Playmakers like Jeffery, White, Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman must be difference-makers, and young players such as Jeremy Langford, Cody Whitehair, Leonard Floyd and Harold Jones-Quartey need hold their own while continuing to grow.
There will be more losses like this, where the Bears were a few plays away from a win. They may get out-classed once or twice before this season is over, and they’ll likely also pull a few wins out where everything seems to come together.
Fox’s second season in charge of the Bears should bring organizational growth, but it won’t be revealed in a day.
Inside the losing locker room, there was disappointment of defeat Sunday. But the Bears believe they’re better than this and know that they take the field at least 15 more times.
“One game doesn’t define who we’re going to be,” Jeffery said. “It’s a long season ahead of us.”