HOUSTON — Jay Cutler ached.
He had a right to.
“The last time I’ve been hit like that was last year,” the quarterback said Sunday after the Bears’ 23-14 loss to the Texans. “Usually you kinda want to build into these, and then Week 4 or 5, when you’re kinda used to it, take a few shots then.”
There’s a metaphor in there somewhere. Because while the Bears preached patience after their third-straight season-opening loss, citing a new offensive line and a wide receiver making his first career start, the league will not wait for them.
Cutler will be reminded when he wakes up sore Monday.
The Texans’ stellar pass rush finally caught up to the quarterback in the second half — logging four of their five sacks — and tested the Bears’ new line configuration with stunts. Texans safeties helped keep Alshon Jeffery without a second-half catch.
The result: the Bears had 71 second-half yards — with 24 coming on their final garbage-time drive.
Cutler finished the first half with a 141.8 passer rating. In the second half, it was 22.9.
“We can’t be helping ‘6’ up off the ground like that,” guard Kyle Long said. “We should be patting him on the butt after touchdown passes.”
On the second play of the third quarter, Cutler — who went 16-for-29 for 216 yards — threw an interception to safety Andre Hal. He was wide open; Kevin White, making his first NFL start, had inexplicably stopped his route.
The first half felt different. Cornerback Tracy Porter ripped the ball from the arms of Pro Bowl receiver DeAndre Hopkins to end the Texans’ first drive. Eight plays and 75 yards later, Jeremy Langford scored on a one-yard run.
A bungled exchanged between Cutler and rookie center Cody Whitehair cost them points on their second drive; a planned fourth-and-1 sneak from the Texans’ 31 ended with the ball on the NRG Stadium turf.
They closed the half in style, though. Down 10-7, they faced first-and-20 from their own 27 — and scored two plays later. Jeffery caught a 54-yard pass down the right sideline, and, after two timeouts, Eddie Royal hauled in a pass up the seam to go the final 19 yards.
“The NFL comes down to a few plays per game,” linebacker Jerrell Freeman said,. “You never know when those plays are. When they come up, you gotta be able to make the plays.”
The Bears didn’t in the second half. Down 14-13 and facing third-and-7 early in the fourth quarter, Texans rookie receiver Will Fuller V took a tunnel screen left for an 18-yard touchdown. The Notre Dame alum was the star of the game, catching a 35-yard third-down pass on the next drive to set up a field goal — and a 23-14 lead.
Jeffery wasn’t ready to call Sunday’s uneven start a sign of things to come.
“We got a helluva team,” Jeffery said. “We got a helluva offense and a helluva defense. One game don’t define what we’re going to be. There’s a long season ahead.”