Full disclosure: Heading into the Monday night showdown in Dallas, I must admit that I had serious doubts about the Bears chances of defeating the Cowboys. But defeat the Cowboys they certainly did, and in impressive fashion.
Monday Night Football has been kind to Chicago—the Bears are now 8-2 on MNF under head coach Lovie Smith. The offense was efficient and the defense was excellent. Five interceptions by Dallas QB Tony Romo resulted in a 34-18 Bears victory.
Kyle Orton led the Cowboys to a late touchdown, but overall their offense couldn't generate much, and when they did, the Bears defense took the ball away.
The five interceptions tied a career high for Romo and, coincidentally, the last time it happened also occured on a Monday night.
With the win, the Bears are now tied with the resurgent Minnesota Vikings in the NFC North. Please join me as I detail the lessons learned in the impressive victory.
The Bears now lead the league in takeaways and, as Lovie Smith usually alludes to, the Bears win when they win the turnover battle.
The cover-2 is a defense that generally gives up yardage, so taking the ball away prevents those yards from resulting in points for the opposition.
And when the Bears defense scores? Well, as ESPN's Michael C. Wright pointed out, "Since 2004, the Bears own a 20-5 record when the defense scores a TD. Since 2005, the club is 17-2 under those circumstances."
Charles Tillman and Lance Briggs each took one to the house. Tillman scored the Bears first touchdown of the game with a 25-yard interception late in the second quarter.
Meanwhile, Briggs had a 74-yard interception in the third quarter. It was the third TD of his brilliant career.
Safety Major Wright had two interceptions, one of which was tipped to him by Tim Jennings, who is having an outstanding season thus far.
A perfect example of that bend-but-don't-break defense is the fact that Romo had 307 yards passing, but those five interceptions made his fairly gaudy passing yardage numbers meaningless.
Since Smith became coach, Bears are 45-9 when they win the turnover battle.
When the opposing team can't run the football, it forces them into predictable passing situations, and the Bears defense, which came into the game ranked first in sacks, could pin its ears back and go after Romo.
They sacked him only once, but pressured him all night and that was due, in large part, to the lack of a running game by Dallas.
DeMarco Murray is an excellent back. But on Monday night, he was held to a measly 24 yards on 11 carries, a paltry 2.2 yard average.
In all, the Cowboys running game managed just a 2.9 yard per carry average on the night, and their longest run was 13 yards.
As my buddy and former colleague Adam Oestmann tweeted on Monday night, Cutler-led teams are 25-0 when he has a 100+ passer rating. So it was no coincidence that the Bears won on a night when Cutler finished 18-for-24 for 275 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Perhaps of all the stats, the zero interceptions were the key. Cutler mostly had adequate time, and there was only one throw he made that should have been picked that I recall.
And the man actually smiled! Yes, he had that unfortunate incident caught on camera when offensive coordinator Mike Tice sat down beside him and he walked away. Other than that though, he truly appeared to be enjoying himself.
Heck, even Lovie Smith smiled. I didn't even know the man had teeth! But there were those pearly whites, exposed for all to see.
But back to Cutler—he got rid of the ball quicker this time and beat the blitz on several occasions. He did fumble the ball once, when he was stripped by DeMarcus Ware, but all in all, he played very efficiently.
Plus, when Dallas did pressure him, Cutler did a good job of stepping up in the pocket and avoiding the rush. He used his feet well to sidestep pass rushers and generally displayed more field awareness than he has in the past.
Cutler's 140.1 passer rating was his best since 2010.
While that shouldn't be unexpected, it has been frustrating because the Marshall trade was considered the bell-weather move of the offseason for Chicago, and the offense hadn't really clicked since the opening victory over the Colts.
But on Monday night, I personally believe that Dallas offensive coordinator Rob Ryan was guilty of overconfidence. He probably noticed that porous Bears offensive line and figured they would pressure Cutler so much that they wouldn't need to double Marshall.
But with the Bears line providing adequate protection, Cutler had time to find his buddy Marshall, with the Pro Bowl wideout catching seven balls for 138 yards and a TD. He and Cutler only failed to connect on one pass that was intended for Marshall.
The Cowboys came into the game as the number one ranked defense in the NFL, with a pass rusher in DeMarcus Ware going up against a weak left tackle in the Bears J'Marcus Webb. It did not look to be a very promising matchup.
The protection overall was decent, allowing two sacks but not a lot of pressure on Cutler. Tice establishing the run early also helped the line, as Cutler didn't get placed into a lot of predictable passing situations where the defense could go after the Bears QB.
The well documented Ware versus Webb matchup did not turn into the nightmare that some Bears fans, myself included, had feared.
Webb had help, to be sure, with some max protect and shorter drops and quicker passes for Cutler.
Almost to a man, Bears players commented after the game how loud the Chicago fans were in Dallas. Even the head coach made a point to say what a difference the pro-Bears crowd made.
As Mike Heika in the Dallas Morning News indicated, there was a strong connection to Texas for some of the Bears players.
Heika wrote that "Bears coach Lovie Smith is from Big Sandy. Center Roberto Garza is from Rio Hondo. Offensive tackle J’Marcus Webb is a North Mesquite product. Hulking defensive tackle Henry Melton started as a running back for Grapevine High School."
I don't know if that had anything to do with it, but even on TV you could hear all the pro-Bears cheering. I'm sure these guys gave lots of tickets to friends and family, but even with that in mind, it was incredible how much fan support there was for Chicago on Monday night.