None of last year’s conference finalists came into the 2011 season with less buzz than the Chicago Bears.
That will likely change after Sunday’s convincing victory over one of this year’s hottest flavors. The Bears thumped the Falcons at Soldier Field to remind everyone that they returned the core of a pretty good team.
Jay Cutler did his best to craft a new narrative after being the target of so much scorn following his knee injury in the NFC Championship Game loss to the Packers. Cutler completed 22-of-32 passes for 322 yards. He connected with Matt Spaeth for a short touchdown and watched Matt Forte turn a short completion into a 56-yard touchdown pass. The only blemish on his day was a tipped pass by John Abraham that Kroy Biermann returned 50 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. The game was pretty well in hand at that point, however, and Cutler’s day had more than enough good to cancel out that miscue.
Forte did his bid for a new contract some good with 158 total yards and Roy Williams had a fairly productive Chicago debut with four catches for 55 yards. He did leave a bit early with a groin injury, the severity of which isn’t known at this point. The offensive line, a question mark throughout the offseason, had their troubles, but they did a good enough job to pave the way to an easy victory. Lovie Smith will probably take that exchange.
The defense was terrific throughout the game with Brian Urlacher and Julius Peppers leading the way. The duo combined for a strip sack (Peppers) and touchdown return (Urlacher) and Urlacher added a first half interception that began tipping the scales in the home team’s direction. Peppers also made a nice play to thwart a two-point conversion attempt by the Falcons after Biermann’s score.
For the Falcons, the offense probably shoulders a bigger share of the blame than the defense. They kept the game close in the first half despite two turnovers and Abraham had a strong game with two sacks and the tipped pass. The Falcons offense, meanwhile, couldn’t score a touchdown and they dropped several passes over the course of the afternoon. There was little of the attacking mentality that the Falcons talked about featuring on offense this season after they paid a hefty sum for the right to draft Julio Jones and their offensive line allowed five sacks to the frisky Bears.