JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (MCT) — Some worried the Bears were walking into a trap Sunday afternoon at EverBank Field, and the first half certainly resembled that.
But a defense that has been playing as well as the Bears’ was not going to be conquered by Blaine Gabbert, the first-round draft pick of the Jaguars last season who is quickly shaping into a bust. Gabbert never did anything to threaten and a close game was blown open in the second half as Charles Tillman and Lance Briggs returned interceptions for touchdowns for the second consecutive game, the first time in NFL history teammates have accomplished that feat.
The defensive scores punctuated the 41-3 mauling that improved the Bears to 4-1 with their third consecutive victory. The offense piled it on in the second half, racking up 310 yards after a first half in which the score was deadlocked 3-3. The Bears totaled 501 yards of offense, the first time the club has topped 500 since Sept. 24, 1989.
The victory sends them into their off week with momentum and a favorable schedule ahead. Their next three opponents — Lions, Panthers and Titans — all have one win each, and the Lions and Panthers come to Soldier Field. Those games precede what will be a hyped showdown with the Texans (4-0) when they visit Nov. 11.
Sunday’s game wasn’t easy from the start. They were deadlocked 3-3 at halftime and it made you wonder if the unusually warm conditions — 88 degrees at kickoff — had caught the Bears out of their element.
“It’s always tough after a Monday night game and going on the road,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said. “The heat probably bothered us an awful lot. We just weren’t as sharp as we needed to be. Thank God they play two halves.”
The offense opened the third quarter with a 17-play drive that consumed 9 minutes, 18 seconds but resulted in just a 31-yard Robbie Gould field goal as two false-start penalties by right tackle Gabe Carimi inside the 10-yard line sabotaged the push for the end zone.
Two plays later, Charles Tillman intercepted Gabbert and returned it 36 yards for a touchdown and a 13-3 lead. The game quickly got out of hand and the Jaguars ran only four plays in the third quarter.
Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall (12 receptions 144 yards) caught touchdown passes from Jay Cutler (23 of 39, 292 yards, 88.8 rating), and then Brian Urlacher blew up Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew on a short pass over the middle and Briggs plucked the ball out of the air and rumbled 36 yards to the end zone.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Urlacher said. “It’s fun to be part of it and watch these guys do it.”
The Jaguars, who head into their off week at 1-4, were stunned and coach Mike Mularkey indicated personnel changes will be discussed.
“I don’t know how all that happened,” Mularkey said. “I told the team I wish I knew what I could say to them afterward coming in from a 3-3 tie at the half, playing pretty good football, to let it escalate out of control.”
The Bears’ defense has scored five touchdowns on the season and ranks first with 14 takeaways, second against the run and sixth in yards.
“The bye is not coming at the best time,” defensive end Julius Peppers said. “It is, but it isn’t. We want to continue riding this wave, but it is a good opportunity for us to rest up and get guys healthy.”
The Bears are expected to practice on Tuesday and Wednesday before a four-day weekend.
While the defense is playing at an elite level, the offense clicked too as Matt Forte rushed for 107 yards on 22 carries, Michael Bush added 52 yards of offense and Armando Allen had a 46-yard touchdown run in garbage time. It was all possible because the offense could be patient knowing the defense was throttling Gabbert (17 of 33 for 142 yards) and Jones-Drew, who gained only 56 yards on 12 carries.
“If we’re 3-3, if we’re close and we’re in it, the defense is going to give us more opportunities,” Cutler said. “We just have to keep grinding away because that defense is going to create turnovers, it’s going to get three-and-outs. The first half there was no panic on our side. It was just a matter of going out there and making the plays we need to make.”