Jay Cutler threw for over 300 yards and two touchdowns. Matt Forte was the focal point of the offense once again, finishing with 158 total yards and a score. Eight different Bears caught passes.
The defensive line dominated as they got to Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan early and often and registered five sacks. Brian Urlacher played like he was five years younger with a diving interception and a fumble return for a touchdown. The secondary kept everything in front of them to prevent the big play and Charles Tillman recorded yet another forced fumble.
That about sums up the Bears’ complete offensive and defensive effort in their thorough, 30-12, dismantling of last year’s No. 1 NFC playoff seed, the Atlanta Falcons. For the Bears’ defense to hold the No. 5 scoring team from a year ago to just two field goals on offense speaks volumes about how good they can be this year.
I was relieved from the outset to see offensive coordinator Mike Martz have a balanced game plan. The opening drive of the game reminded me of last year’s first possession against the Lions in the season opener. The Bears drove from their 23-yard line to the Falcons’ 23 on 10 plays in just over five minutes. Unfortunately, like last year, they could not put six on the board. Robbie Gould connected from 41 yards out to give the Bears a 3-0 lead.
The Falcons came back with their own 10-play drive ending in a field goal, but you had to feel good about how the Bears defense played that drive. The defense gave up just one play of more than 10 yards and kept everything in front of them. Not bad against one of the top offenses in the league.
On the Falcons’ next possession, Ryan zeroed in on tight end Tony Gonzalez, with whom Urlacher was covering the whole play. Ryan tried to thread it past Urlacher, who left his feet to make a diving interception. Not only was it impressive for a player of his age to haul in the pass in mid-air from short distance, but he maintained possession of the ball when he hit the ground.
The Bears capitalized off the Urlacher interception when three plays later, Cutler hit Forte on a screen pass which the running back took 56 yards for a touchdown. Martz’s play call was brilliant. Knowing that the Falcons’ defensive ends would try to get up field past the Bears’ young offensive tackles — after sacking Cutler two players earlier — Martz called a misdirection where they faked a reverse to the left side of the field before tossing it back to Forte on the left. New fullback Tyler Clutts made a key downfield block that helped spring Forte for the big run after the catch.
The key to Lovie Smith’s defense, of course, is takeaways and the Bears got a second-straight takeaway on the Falcons’ next possession. After a 30-yard completion from Ryan to Gonzalez, Tillman punched the ball loose from Falcons running back Michael Turner on the next play, which Julius Peppers recovered.
The Bears added a pair of Robbie Gould field goals in the second quarter to go into halftime leading, 16-3. In the second half, they kept the pressure on.
After giving up a Matt Bryant field goal on the opening possession, the Bears drove 92 yards for a touchdown. A 27-yard Forte run and a 53-yard catch-and-run by Devin Hester on a screen pass were the highlights of the drive before Cutler hit new tight end Matt Spaeth for a one-yard score. Lovie Smith tried to challenge the Hester play because it appeared Hester’s foot hit the pylon before he touched the white out-of-bounds stripe, but there were no camera angles that definitively showed where the ball was.
On the next drive, the onslaught continued. With Peppers in his face and chasing him down, Ryan tried to leave the pocket and lost control of the ball. Peppers pounced on it to try to corral it and ended up batting it toward Urlacher, who scooped it up and took it 12 yards for the touchdown. That made the score, 30-6, and the rout was on. The Falcons added a fourth-quarter touchdown as Cutler threw a pass in the face of pressure that was tipped in the air, intercepted, and returned 50 yards for the score.
By that time, though, the damage was already done and the Bears had entered conservative mode. Lovie Smith inserted Kahlil Bell in lieu of Forte to keep the starter healthy.
It was a day in which not much could go wrong. Following a Sept. 11 tribute and a stirring national anthem by Jim Cornelison broadcast on stadium scoreboards throughout the NFL, the Bears seemed to have more energy than the Falcons and were definitely the more prepared team. Not only was the win a complete effort by the team, but everyone got involved.
Forte led all receivers with five receptions and 90 yards, but a lot of receivers got in on the action. Roy Williams made his Bears regular season debut and had four catches for 55 yards and no drops. He left, unfortunately, with a groin injury. Johnny Knox and Hester each had three receptions for 60 yards apiece, and tight ends Kellen Davis and Spaeth each had two receptions. Earl Bennett had a quiet game, but he pitched in with two catches for 11 yards.
It was good to see balance in the run game as Forte and Bell combined for 26 carries — Forte with 16, Bell with 10. Forte averaged 4.25 yards per carry which is a good sign for the run game.
Defensively, I cannot say enough about the line. Despite a lot of skepticism out there among fans and media, I felt confident that the line was deep and tough. They went after Ryan in waves and never let him get comfortable in the pocket. Besides Peppers, who recorded two sacks and a forced fumble, Henry Melton had a great game in his first start at the under tackle. He was a destructive force, picking up two sacks of his own and registering an impressive seven quarterback hits. Ryan will be having nightmares of Melton’s jersey for a week. Even newcomer Amobi Okoye registered a sack and made his presence felt in the backfield on a number of occasions.
There wasn’t much to talk about regarding the special teams. Hester had the opportunity to return three kickoffs, although he wasn’t able to do much with them, averaging just 17 yards per return. He also had one punt return for 14 yards. Gould connected on his three field goal attempts with a long of 41 yards and Adam Podlesh kept shifting field position when needed. He had one punt pinned inside the 20 and a long of 57 yards.
After seeing how potent the Saints and Packers were on Thursday night, there was added importance to this game. There’s a chance the Bears could lose their next two games to those teams and be 1-2, which is bad, but wouldn’t have been as devastating as a 0-3 start. If the Bears play as well as they did this week against the Saints and Packers, they should be able to compete with both teams.
Let’s first worry about the Saints and hope for a good Cajun homecoming for Forte.
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