Leading up to the Titans game this past week, the concern for the Bears was of another letdown similar to the Panthers game last week. With two big games coming up in back-to-back weeks against the Texans and 49ers, many wondered if the Bears might overlook a talented, yet underperforming Titans team on the road.
Wonder not. The only letdown might have been that the Bears didn’t score 60 points.
The Bears continued to play the best defense in the NFL in a thorough domination of the Titans, 51-20. And they did it in Bears fashion with five takeaways on four fumble recoveries and a pick-six by the aging Brian Urlacher.
The only thing really stopping the Bears from being declared the undisputed best team in the league is an offensive line that continues to place Jay Cutler in constant duress.
Cutler and the offense’s numbers were hardly laughable. The quarterback threw for 229 yards on 19 of 26 passing for 3 touchdowns and no interceptions. He did lose one fumble when he got sacked from his blind side. Matt Forte rushed for 103 yards and a touchdown on just 12 carries and Brandon Marshall caught 9 passes for 122 yards and hauled in all three of Cutler’s touchdown tosses, including an impressive 39-yarder.
But that strip sack on Cutler — one of three sacks on the day — and the countless other quarterback pressures applied by the Titans remains a cause for concern. All too often, Cutler would just barely reach the final step in his drop when a defensive lineman would be coming around the corner and barreling down on him. It is unbelievable what Cutler is capable of doing with just an average amount of time in the pocket, but many days he doesn’t even see that much time. The line needs to figure things out so that offensive coordinator Mike Tice doesn’t need to max protect most plays. Perhaps the imminent return of rookie receiver Alshon Jeffery from a hand injury will help open up the passing game again.
But the story of the game was the defense. Between Urlacher’s touchdown return — the seventh interception return for a touchdown this year by the Bears defense — and Charles Tillman’s four forced fumbles, the Bears looked physically imposing on that side of the ball and sent a message to the remaining offenses on the team’s schedule.
Even the special teams got in on the fun this week. Cornerback Sherrick McManis blocked a Titans punt which was fielded on a bounce by defensive end Corey Wootton, who muscled his way five yards into the end zone. Later in the game, Devin Hester finally found his groove by fielding a punt, making one cut up the field and returning it 44 yards to the Titans’ 8-yard-line to set up Forte’s touchdown run.
Last week, and throughout much of the season, the Bears have begun games slowly and have had to pick it up in the second half to put teams away. The team wanted to guard against that, and they did so this week by scoring four touchdowns in a span of just over five minutes in the first quarter.
By the end of the first, the Bears had put up 28 points off a punt block, a rushing touchdown, an interception return, and a passing touchdown. That’s three-phase domination right there. And Lovie Smith’s fourth phase — the Bears fans — made its impact as well as the fans’ voices were heard late in the game with the all-too-familiar “Let’s go Bears!” chant that has been commonly heard through many road stadiums this year.
I know that questions still remain about the quality of the Bears offense — mostly because of that offensive line and the fact that the defense has indeed been so dominant. And I know skeptics will point to the quality of opponents on the Bears’ schedule — of their seven victories, only one has come against an opponent with an above-.500 record.
But that’s not the point. What matters is that the Bears are playing with confidence right now, received their humble pie last week against the Panthers, and will head into their toughest stretch of the season with strong motivation on their side. Sometimes that’s all it takes to give a team that added advantage against its opponent.
It starts next week on national TV in a Sunday night battle with the 7-1 Houston Texans.