The Atlanta Falcons (4-6) and Chicago Bears (3-7) played to their records during Sunday's first half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, tied at 17 apiece with big plays and missed opportunities aplenty.
With the Falcons coming off a mini-bye week, the question of being rusty vs. fresh needed to be answered - and the first drive seemed to quell all concerns.
Atlanta (No. 4) and Chicago (No. 1) each ranked top-five in the NFL in rushing, setting the stage for a ground-and-pound slugfest. But on the opening series, the Falcons marched downfield with a balanced attack, as quarterback Marcus Mariota looked sharp after facing increased public scrutiny throughout the week.
A 10-play, 75-yard drive that featured 40 yards through the air and 30 on the ground (with five more via penalty) was capped off with Mariota hitting rookie receiver Drake London in the back corner of the endzone for a touchdown, marking the second consecutive week that the two have found paydirt.
The Bears quickly responded, as rookie Velus Jones Jr. returned the kickoff into Falcons territory. Just seven plays later, quarterback Justin Fields hit receiver Darnell Mooney for a 16-yard touchdown on 3rd and 8 as Chicago ran a well-executed rub route to beat cornerback Dee Alford.
The lust of the scripted drives quickly wore off, with each side struggling to gain control in a 7-7 tie.
The Falcons were forced to punt after a six-play, 18-yard drive, and the Bears did the same after five plays, with Fields missing a wide-open Mooney downfield after Darren Hall fell down in coverage.
However, Falcons punt returner Avery Williams fumbled at the end of his 16-yard run, and Chicago took over in plus territory once again ... but failed to capitalize once more, as the Falcons defense created pressure on Fields and forced two negative plays, pushing the Bears out of field goal range.
Atlanta's offense continued to struggle, punting the ball away just four plays, and Chicago responded with a field goal to take a 10-7 lead.
Looking to regain momentum, the Falcons gave the ball to running back Cordarrelle Patterson, who cut across the grain and gained 19 yards ... but fumbled, with the Bears recovering for the second time on the day.
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Working with a short field, Chicago converted on two third downs before Fields punched in a four-yard run to give the Bears 17 unanswered points.
Their 17-7 lead lasted all of one play, as Patterson responded from his mistake by making NFL history, returning the kickoff 103-yards to the house for his ninth career return touchdown, putting him first all-time in league history in kickoff scores.
A 10-play drive by Chicago stalled at midfield, and a 56-yard field goal attempt by Cairo Santos hit the crossbar. It would've been a career long, but instead served as Santos' first miss this year and first in 21 attempts.
Led by Mariota, the Falcons went 32 yards on six plays, with kicker Younghoe Koo's kick creeping in next to the left upright to draw the Falcons even at the half, 17 all.
The Bears will receive the ball to start the second half, with the game all knotted up following a storming close.
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