ARLINGTON, Texas — A national television audience got a good glimpse of the stout defense and volatile yet improving offense that has defined the first quarter of the Bears season.
The defense intercepted Tony Romo five times — with Charles Tillman and Lance Briggs returning their picks for touchdowns — and quarterback Jay Cutler completely outdueled Romo in a 34-18 rout of the Cowboys on Monday night before a vocal contingent of Bears fans among the 90,080 at Cowboys Stadium.
The Bears moved to 3-1 to remain in a tie with the upstart Vikings atop the NFC North. The return of running back Matt Forte gave the offense a little boost as he carried 13 times for 52 yards, and Cutler fired touchdown passes to Devin Hester and Brandon Marshall.
"Just outstanding play for our defense," coach Lovie Smith said. "It seemed like everyone had a say in it. In order to get (five interceptions), you have to have pressure."
An ESPN camera captured Cutler as he blew off offensive coordinator Mike Tice on the sideline in the second quarter. The scene — in which Tice approached Cutler at the bench to talk, and Cutler abruptly took off — occurred after the Bears failed to convert a third-and-1 and settled for a 43-yard Robbie Gould field goal. It quickly spread over the Internet.
The Bears will do their best to label it a non-story, but it comes two weeks after Cutler bumped left tackle J'Marcus Webb in Green Bay.
"It's not anything," Cutler said. "I don't have to sit by (Tice) the whole game, do I? We can't read into everything. ... You can't blow up every headline. Things happen during football games. Just because I walk off and get water doesn't mean much."
Against what had been the NFL's No. 1 defense, Cutler completed 18 of 24 passes for 275 yards and made big plays downfield with the offensive line doing a solid job controlling outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware. Marshall caught seven passes for 138 yards, including a 31-yard touchdown against blown coverage in the fourth quarter, and tight end Kellen Davis showed up with three catches for 62 yards.
Romo was downright awful. A mixup between him and wide receiver Dez Bryant set up Tillman for an easy 25-yard return for a touchdown, the franchise-record sixth interception return for a score in his career. That put the Bears ahead 10-0 late in the second quarter before the Cowboys (2-2) responded with an 80-yard drive capped by Romo's 10-yard touchdown pass to Miles Austin.
But the Bears marched right downfield to open the third quarter, going ahead 17-7 on Hester's 34-yard touchdown.
The defense made up for a Cutler fumble when tackle Henry Melton forced Romo to cough the ball up, and Briggs returned the interception 74 yards for a 24-7 lead.
Romo completed 31 of 43 passes for 307 yards. Strong safety Major Wright had two interceptions, one on a ball that went off wide receiver Kevin Ogletree.
In the fourth quarter, with the Bears holding on to a 17-point lead, nickel cornerback D.J. Moore picked off Romo, making up for some earlier missed tackles, and Romo finally was yanked for Kyle Orton. The defense also throttled Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray, limiting him to 24 yards on 11 carries.
The victory represents the first for the Bears against a team that wasn't a doormat last season. It's hard to say what home victories over the Colts and Rams represented. But this was a road victory against a team many expect to compete in the NFC. Maybe it didn't set the tone when the Bears won here in Week 2 of 2010, but it was an early confidence builder. This game could provide the same benefit, as the defense is playing with a swagger.
What should not be lost in the victory was a solid effort for the scrutinized offensive line. Cutler was sacked only twice, once when he held the ball too long and once on a bootleg that didn't materialize. The line's play, at least for a week, was encouraging.
"The way that offensive line is blocking, it's making it easy for me," Cutler said. "That was the best rhythm we have had offensively, in and out of the huddle, all year. We've just got to take that momentum and keep it rolling."