The Bears have considered themselves finishers and fighters this season, though recent events have put a bit of the lie to that self-assessment. But a more pressing concern might be that the Bears too often have failed to be “starters,” falling behind even lesser opponents and then needing to reach epic levels to achieve a comeback that arguably shouldn’t have been necessary with max effort from the start of games.
That has been a recipe for failure for the 2015 Bears.
“I don’t know that we’ve had any slower starts than finishes,” coach John Fox said. “We’ve just got to play better, in particularly in crunch time. I think that’s been the frustrating part for the players and the coaches because a lot of time and effort goes into these things.”
For the Bears, crunch time has come in first quarters, and the consequences have too often been dire.
The Bears have been outscored in first quarters in 10 of their 13 games; they are 3-7 in those games, Washington being the most recent. Their wins came against Kansas City, San Diego and in the second meeting with Green Bay.
The Bears have been ahead of only Oakland after one quarter and tied with St. Louis and San Francisco after the first quarters; 2-1 when they keep up with or lead an opponent.
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Several players in the aftermath of the 24-21 loss to Washington on Sunday said that the Bears had failed to match Washington's intensity at the outset. Both teams were hard after making the playoffs, but only one acted like it from the beginning.
The reality is that opponents are scoring half-again as many points in first halves against the Bears as in second halves: 182 first-half points vs. 123 second-half points. The Bears’ defense does its best work coming out in the third quarter (51 points, lowest of the four quarters).
For their part, the Bears offensively sputter badly in the first and third quarters: 73 total points for quarters one and three vs. 199 for quarters two and four.
“We’ve been involved in some close games, even games we’ve won,” Fox said. “I think we’re still learning that. We’re still working hard to get better at it. As you look at the last two weeks, there’s opportunities there, really at the end, ultimately, regardless of how it started. We just need to finish it better.”
And start it a whole lot better, too.