On Sunday the Atlanta Falcons looked like they hadn't heard about the end of the lockout until Saturday night.
Their defenders hit like All-Pros...from the lingerie league.
Quarterback Matty "Ice" Ryan played the way he often does when not in a stadium situated in downtown Atlanta.
Yet Sunday's 30-12 Bears season-opening victory over the Falcons at Soldier Field could lead anyone with only an ounce of football knowledge to one obvious conclusion: The Bears really are better than anyone expected.
"There were a lot of questions about our team coming into the season," linebacker Brian Urlacher said. "We’re off to a good start, 1-0 against a good football team. So we just have to keep building."
It was pure dominance, the kind no one thought possible when Matt Forte and Lance Briggs griped over the lack of big money deals and wide receiver Roy Williams was dropping preseason passes.
Whether the Falcons are for real or not will be decided in 16 weeks. But Atlanta did go 0-4 in preseason before stinking up the lakefront Sunday.
That adds up to 0-5 for a team some conceded a playoff spot to after they drafted rookie wide receiver Julio Jones.
Jones did catch five passes for 71 yards and Ryan threw for 319 yards while Michael Turner even hit the 100-yard rushing mark against a defense ranked second last year against the run.
The Falcons didn't have a chance, though, because of the dominance of a Bears ball-hawking defense that usually has to prop up its offense.
In the preseason, coach Lovie Smith complained about the lack of turnovers forced by his team.
In this case, the preseason meant much less than it apparently did for the Falcons because Julius Peppers and Charles Tillman forced fumbles.
Urlacher stretched for a spectacular interception and a scoop-and-score fumble recovery. Peppers had a fumble recovery as well.
The Bears defense became the first team since Pittsburgh in last year's opener to hold Atlanta without an offensive touchdown.
"It's not a good defensive game for us unless we can take the ball away," coach Lovie Smith said. "Normally if you have a plus-two on the turnover ratio you're going to win 90 percent of your games.
"Our players understand that. But they (Atlanta) weren't turning it over. We were taking the ball away. And we just have to keep that going."
How many more years will linebacker Brian Urlacher play after 2011?
On the second-half fumble that Urlacher returned 11 yards for a TD, Ryan just placed the ball down on the turf as he ran for his life from Peppers (2 sacks.
Peppers continues to be the best argument general manager Jerry Angelo has when people claim Bears management never coughs up big money for the really good free agents.
"The defense kept the clamps on them all game long," said quarterback Jay Cutler, who didn't have to answer a single question from dimwitted national media types about Twitter, the injury he suffered in last year's NFC championship game or even a certain Hollywood actress.
"We still have to play up to the (Bears') defensive level. They’re still carrying us and they’re still doing some things out there that are unbelievable.
"The pressure they get on the quarterback and the way they run to the ball, it’s a tough defense to go against.”
Cutler could say the same of the offense, on this day anyway.
Without supposedly indispensable players like center Olin Kreutz and Panthers tight end Greg Olsen, coordinator Mike Martz's offense converted five of 10 first half third downs, averaged a phenomenal 9.8 yards per pass attempt for the game and possessed the ball over six minutes longer than the Falcons.
"Mike (Martz) loves to throw it; everyone in the league knows that," Cutler said.
"That’s no secret. So if you can protect, you’re probably going to roll up some offensive passing yards."
They did this better than anyone could have expected with Atlanta defensive ends Ray Edwards and John Abraham going up against novice tackles Gabe Carimi and J'Marcus Webb.
It wasn't perfect. Webb held a couple times and got beat for a sack.
Carimi seemed stuck in his three-point stance while the end ran right around him a couple times. But they held up.
The formula for disaster on the line seemed even worse than imagined when guard Lance Louis suffered an ankle sprain in the first half.
That meant backup center Chris Spencer had to come in at guard because backup guard Edwin Williams was inactive for the game.
Offensive line coach Mike Tice could have switched Roberto Garza from center to guard and put Spencer at center.
That was the move everyone anticipated from day one in Bourbonnais. It never happened.
Garza said he's taken so many snaps at center in camp now that it would have been counterproductive. He's feeling like a center now.
Based on the first game, how many wins will the Bears achieve in the regular season?
At least on this day it was hats off to the Bears, a team with a decrepit old defense that has six 30-something players, an offense led by a supposedly gutless quarterback whom many thought faked an injury and several unhappy players who say they haven't been paid the money they deserve.
Perhaps unfair judgment has been passed on a team that won the NFC North and came up eight points short of a Super Bowl last year.