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Running game lets Bears finally enjoy first-quarter groove

Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte (22) breaks away long run 1st quarter Monday October 22 2012 Soldier Field. |

Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte (22) breaks away on a long run in the 1st quarter on Monday, October 22, 2012 in at Soldier Field. | Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media

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Fast starts haven’t been the forte of the Bears’ offense this season. Most of the offensive highlights have come in the second halves of games — after defensive ones.

That changed against the Detroit Lions when the Bears scored 10 points in the first 15 minutes Monday night at Soldier Field. They had scored only 13 points in the first quarters of their previous five games.

So what changed?

The defense gave the offense decent field position, but it was the running game coming alive — at least for one long gain — that gave the Bears some early momentum.

Running back Matt Forte ripped off a 39-yard run on the Bears’ first drive behind solid blocks from guard Lance Louis and tight end Kyle Adams. A play later, a rolling Jay Cutler found his favorite target, Brandon Marshall, for a seven-yard touchdown pass that gave the Bears a 7-0 lead less than four minutes into the game. That capped a six-play, 59-yard drive.

It was the first time since last Nov. 13 — a 37-13 victory against the Lions — that the Bears had scored on their opening drive.

Robbie Gould added a 39-yard field goal with 1:29 left in the first quarter after the Bears started a drive on the 50-yard line.

‘‘We thought coming into the game it would be this type of football game,’’ coach Lovie Smith said. ‘‘We assumed it would be this tight. That’s why it was so important for us to get off and start fast.’’

The Lions are far from being among the best first-quarter teams in the NFL, having been outscored 40-21 in first quarters this season, but getting the running game going has been a much-talked-about goal for the Bears for some time. Their last game was a 41-3 rout of the Jacksonville Jaguars in which they surpassed 200 yards on the ground. But that game was a distant memory because of the bye week, and the Lions presented a much stiffer challenge.

Forte finished with 22 carries for 96 yards, including five carries for 43 yards in the first quarter. Even Cutler got involved in the ground attack, especially early on.

Cutler has struggled early in games this season, but he completed 6 of 9 passes in the first quarter Monday and also scrambled for 35 yards. His 11-yard scramble on third down kept the Bears’ first drive alive.

‘‘[Getting the running game going] was very important, especially with a game like tonight,’’ Smith said. ‘‘That’s why getting that seven points on the board, getting our running game going and then relying on our defense . . . When you’re playing defense like that and get a lead, you’ve got to be able to run the football. And we were able to.’’

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