Column: Bears still try to get by with half a team
CHICAGO (AP) — Bears defenders have been running off the field for a half-century now and yelling the same thing at their offensive teammates.
"Try and hold 'em."
One more time, that turned out to be too much to ask.
The Houston Texans arrived in Chicago with the same glittering 7-1 record and ranked in the top 10 in every important offensive category.
They got four turnovers Sunday night, but only did so much with them. They completed 14 passes and managed to muster all of 215 yards against the NFL's No. 1-ranked scoring defense.
But it was more than enough for a 13-6 win against the Bears, who played the second half without quarterback Jay Cutler, concussed after a helmet-to-chin blow delivered by linebacker Tim Dobbins just before intermission.
Still, when backup Jason Campbell entered the game, it seemed he could hardly do worse. Cutler took 40 yards passing, two interceptions and a 16.7 quarterback rating with him to the bench.
Campbell, brought in from Oakland because of his ability to throw deep, wound up more than doubling that production, but never seriously threatened the goal line, either.
The closest Chicago came to scoring behind Campbell was a 48-yard field-goal attempt early in the fourth quarter by Robbie Gould, whose kick through a driving rainstorm clanked off the left upright.
Houston scored its final points on a 42-yard kick by Shayne Graham just inside the five-minute mark, then dropped its defensive backs into deep coverage and dared Campbell to throw.
He did, taking exactly one shot down the field in Chicago's final two possessions, settling instead for a succession of short passes that produced drives of minus-1 and 3 yards respectively with the game on the line.
Coach Lovie Smith has worked overtime during his tenure to keep the bickering between the two sides of the ball at a minimum.
It hasn't been easy, given some of the offensive talent the defense has been asked to prop up; consider this string of quarterbacks since Smith's arrival in 2004: Chad Hutchinson, Craig Krenzel, Kyle Orton, Rex Grossman, Todd Collins and Caleb Hanie.
Afterward, safety Chris Conte was asked what it felt like to watch helplessly as another superb defensive effort circled the drain. He rolled his eyes.
"That's not what I get paid to worry about," Conte said. "That's what the offensive guys get paid to do."
If so, they're overpaid.
The Texans' first score, a 20-yard field goal, was practically gifted them on the Bears' opening drive. That began hopefully at the Chicago 43, then came to a screeching halt when tight end Kellen Davis caught a short pass and then committed a fumble that Dobbins returned to the Bears 28.
Houston had to earn the game's only touchdown, marching 66 yards in the second quarter with running back Arian Foster grinding out tough yards on three of the six plays before laying out to catch a 2-yard TD pass.
"We couldn't stop the run," Smith said. "You just can't let them run the ball the way they did in that first half. Second half, I thought we played better. ... We tackled better in the second half, which gave us an opportunity."
The second half could have spilled over into Tuesday and the Bears might be trying to score a touchdown still. More than a quarter of their 27 TDs thus far this season came via the defense — seven interceptions returned for touchdowns — and an eighth was provided by the special teams. In nine games, the defense has yielded 11 opposing TDs.
Foster finished the game with 29 carries for 102 yards rushing, but only 17 of those came after halftime.
"Given the conditions, they knew we were going to try and run the football," Texans quarterback Matt Schaub said. "He was still able to churn out yards and get the tough ones. He just played big."
Schaub said the rain made the footing difficult "and left a little bit of a glaze of mud on the ball, which kind of made it tough to grip. It kept you from wanting to take a chance (throwing) down the field."
But that's exactly what the Bears set out to do when they reversed course four years ago and bundled, among other things, Orton and two first-round picks in a deal to pry Cutler away from Denver. Then they doubled down this past offseason to acquire receiver Brandon Marshall, Cutler's one-time teammate with the Broncos, and provide the deep threat the Bears rarely had.
It turned out to be not much consolation on this night, though Marshall wound up with all but 27 of the Bears' 134 yards receiving — including a 45-yarder from Campbell.
"There was no heads hanged down when Jay was down. There was no complaining," Marshall said. "We understand we have a starting quarterback in the backup so we're fortunate to have him. There will be no drop off in our offense."
Of course, he sees good things ahead. But that's just because he hasn't been in town very long.
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org and follow him at Twitter.com/JimLitke.