By Chris Emma–
CHICAGO (CBS) — The chorus of boos at the halftime whistle Sunday was much louder than the Bears’ play. Chicago trailed Tampa Bay 10-0 and should have been losing by more.READ MORE: City Was Warned About Thousands of Corroding Light Poles But Failed to Fix Many, CBS 2 Investigation Finds
Fans at Soldier Field were frustrated, and the players certainly were, too. Inside the locker room — the site of an infamous postgame meltdown after a loss to Miami and plenty more drama — attempts at accountability took place.
“Verbally, we questioned guys,” Bears quarterback Jay Cutler said. “We made sure everyone was in this for the right reasons.”
Added tight end Martellus Bennett: “Coach came in and sad, ‘Hey, we’re playing s—-. We already knew we were playing s—-, so he just confirmed what we were already thinking.”
The Bears came out for the second half with improvements — enough to spark a 21-point third quarter and earn a 21-13 win.
The Bucs and quarterback Josh McCown were held to a three-and-out to start the third quarter, then the Bears got on the board with a six-play, 58-yard drive that ended with an Alshon Jeffery touchdown.
Matt Forte, the Bears’ most consistent player, added two more scores in the third quarter, and Chicago would never look back.
“Great player,” said Lovie Smith, the Bucs’ head coach and Bears’ leader for nine years. “He’s been that way since he came into the league. Same old Matt Forte.”
In a season with leadership voids and an identity crisis, the Bears’ leaders stepped up with constructive words Sunday, rather than throwing flames at each other.
“Everybody is just trying to get as much passion and emotion into every single thing we do,” Bennett said. “And I think that’s what we’re communicating verbally to each other right now, that it really matters.”
A familiar foe
The Bears could say “it’s just another game” until they became blue in the face, but the reality is, this was much greater. In Smith, Chicago was facing its head coach of nine seasons.
Much of the Bears’ roster has seen turnover since Smith left Chicago, but part of a core that won 10 games in his final season of 2012 remains intact.
“A lot of good memories,” Smith said of his time in Chicago. “But this is not one of them, right now.”READ MORE: Chicago Weather: Rain Arrives Sunday
In an interesting matchup, the Bears faced the schemes they used to run under Smith’s guidance. There are no wrinkles or surprises in the Cover 2 defense. Tampa Bay had success against Chicago’s offense, holding it to 204 yards. However, a 21-point third quarter proved to be the difference in the game.
However, the Bears didn’t see this game as a chess match.
“It was more we’re going to play this and you’re going to do that and we’ll see how it plays out,” quarterback Jay Cutler said.
Emotions were natural as the Bears faced a leader many cherish. It was a meeting that can best be described as awkward.
Smith attempted to block out the noise, avoiding interaction before the game and swiftly leaving the field afterward, exchanging pleasantries with just a few players.
“Lovie does a great job of getting quality players and quality coaches, humans and great people on the field,” Cutler said.
The Bears know it all too well, as they spent nine years and won 81 regular-season games with Smith as coach. On Sunday, Chicago handed Smith his 72nd loss.
Injury bug bites again
A Bears win wasn’t without key losses. Chicago lost linebacker Lance Briggs to a groin injury and cornerback Kyle Fuller to a knee injury. Updates on both will be provided Monday.
With a short turnaround and game on Thanksgiving, the Bears have to hope two of their key defensive players only endured minor injuries. The loss of Briggs makes Chicago especially thin at linebacker.
“We gotta replace his production, someway, some how,” linebacker Jon Bostic said. “It’s gonna take all of us. Lance is a great player. It’s going to take all of playing together, playing well.”
On the opposite sideline, Smith watched with concern as Briggs limped off the field. The two shared many memories and a close bond together, with Briggs earning seven Pro Bowl appearances as part of Smith’s defense.
But the Bears defense looks a lot different than what Smith left behind. Briggs and Charles Tillman — on injury reserve with a triceps injury — are the two remaining cornerstones from Smith’s defensive success. Neither were on the field in the fourth quarter.
“Lance Briggs is a great player,” Smith said. “He’s been a great player for a long time. You want to compete against the best, and it’s a little different without him not out there. It’s a little different not seeing a lot of guys out there.”MORE NEWS: Plummer, Cockburn Lead Illinois Past Rutgers
Even without Tillman, Briggs or the rookie Fuller, the Bears still forced four Tampa Bay turnovers, a trademark of Smith’s teams in Chicago.