Matt Forte gobbled up the yards on the ground, and the defense made several big plays at key moments.The second-half rally was reminiscent of Lovie Smith’s time with the Bears, and that old familiar formula spoiled the coach’s return to Soldier Field.Forte rushed for two touchdowns in the third quarter, and the Bears forced four turnovers in a 21-13 victory over Smith and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.
”Lovie preaches that a lot — we felt we had to win the turnover battle,” Bears cornerback Tim Jennings said. ”That was huge for our success today. It was real huge. We needed that.”
Jay Cutler threw a 2-yard TD pass to Alshon Jeffery as the Bears (5-6) scored 21 straight points to erase a 10-0 halftime deficit. Forte had a 13-yard run that put the Bears ahead to stay, and then added a 1-yard plunge that made it 21-10.
”Our defense did a great job in the second half of getting turnovers so that we can convert those into touchdowns, you know, down in the red zone,” Forte said.
Smith coached the Bears to three playoff appearances and a trip to the 2007 Super Bowl during his nine-year run in Chicago. He was hired by Tampa Bay in January, and his return to Chicago showed just how far he has to go to get the lowly Bucs (2-9) back on track.
”Won a lot of games here at Soldier Field,” Smith said. ”Lot of great memories, but this is a bad memory right now.”
Tampa Bay had three turnovers in the third. Josh McCown, who played with the Bears off and on for the previous three seasons, lost a fumble and threw an interception. Vincent Jackson fumbled at the end of a 24-yard reception that would have resulted in a first-and-goal.Each of Forte’s touchdowns came after a Buccaneers turnover. McCown also threw an interception in the first quarter that ended another promising drive.
”When you’re on the road, it’s tough when you give them more opportunities,” said Jackson, who had five receptions for 117 yards.
Forte had 23 carries for 89 yards as the Bears won consecutive games for the first time since September. Cutler was 17 for 27 for 130 yards.McCown was 25 for 48 for 341 yards for Tampa Bay, which has dropped six of seven. Rookie Mike Evans had a touchdown reception for the fourth consecutive game, and Louis Murphy added six receptions for 113 yards.The Buccaneers managed just 156 yards and six first downs in the second half after getting off to a fast start on a rainy day on the Lake Front.
”We did much better on third down,” said safety Ryan Mundy, who had the third-quarter interception for Chicago. ”At the start of the game they were converting at a much higher rate. Once we settled in and started getting stops on third down that really helped us out.”
Smith was let go by the Bears after they failed to make the playoffs for the second straight season in 2012 despite a 10-6 record. He was 81-63 in his first stint as a head coach in the NFL.Most of Smith’s tenure in Chicago featured a stout defense and an ineffective offense, and general manager Phil Emery replaced him with a coach with an offensive background when he hired Marc Trestman last January. It has been a rocky start so far for Trestman, and Smith’s return seemed to increase the pressure on the former CFL coach with Montreal.It got even worse for Trestman when Tampa Bay controlled most of the first half, with the Buccaneers playing like some of Smith’s winning teams in Chicago.Gerald McCoy knocked the ball loose when he had a big hit on Cutler in the first quarter and Clinton McDonald recovered for the Buccaneers. McCown then capped a six-play, 46-yard drive with a 19-yard touchdown pass to Evans for a 7-0 lead.Tampa Bay scored again right before halftime, making it 10-0 on rookie Patrick Murray’s 32-yard field goal. Murphy had a key 54-yard reception when he spun out of a tackle attempt by Jennings, and Jackson had a 27-yard grab on a third-and-23 on the drive.
NOTES—The Bears had a season-high five sacks. … Tampa Bay FB Jorvorskie Lane was carted off in the second quarter with what Smith said was a ”serious” right ankle injury. … Bears LB Lance Briggs was sidelined by a groin injury, and CB Kyle Fuller departed with a knee injury. … Tampa Bay RB Doug Martin returned after missing three games with an ankle injury. He had 27 yards on 11 carries.