The Bears sized up quarterback Matt Ryan and his new rookie receiver and his established star on the other side, and blew them up.
It was all you could eat for the Bears’ defense. Julius Peppers was all over the line and all over the Falcons backfield. Henry Melton matched Peppers’ two sacks, looking as special as Lovie Smith said he would. Amobi Okoye had a sack, as well.
There was a copyrighted forced fumble by Charles Tillman, and omygod, there was Brian Urlacher. A spectacular diving interception, a hustling fumble return for a touchdown, a bunch of tackles -- look, if Urlacher is old, get me the AARP hotline.
And like that, the Bears defense ruined one of the most-hyped offenses in the league.
As it should be.
It’s probably not news that the defense will carry this year’s Bears. But this was a statement. This was the chaos and havoc that Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli demanded. Gang tackling. Harassing coverage. Pressure that turned Ryan into Matty Iced. And Diced. And Sliced.
The quality of the Bears starters was apparent. Same goes for the quality of the backups.
One series where that depth and playmaking ability showed came early in the second half. The Falcons were third-and-goal at the Bears’ 8 on the opening drive, trailing only 13-3 despite being dominated in the first half. A touchdown there, and suddenly, hoo boy, the Falcons are another TD away from making the Bears scream about the points they left on the field in the first half.
The defense made sure of it with sure tackling and fundamentally sound coverage. Michael Turner was stuffed by everybody for a one-yard loss. Tillman smothered White on a slant while poking away the pass. Then surprising Nick Reed covered and smothered Jason Snelling into a two-yard loss to force a field goal.
The Bears offense promptly went 92 yards for a 23-6 lead, as surprising as the Bears’ hellacious defensive attack was expected. The offense struggled to get touchdowns, and it looks like it will continue to struggle for a while, no matter the spasms of big plays Sunday. Cutler threw for 312 yards and two scores. Matt Forte caught and ran like a good negotiator. Roy Williams gave the Bears a game of catching and blocking they hadn’t seen before he got hurt. Johnny Knox looked like a starter. And Devin Hester made a dazzling play.
But Cutler got sacked four times and was hit a lot more, and let’s not even talk about that tipped pass that became a 50-yard interception return for a score.
It was left to the defense. It is always left to the defense. Gain momentum. Then regain it after something like that interception return. And regain it, the defense did, forcing the Falcons into a holding penalty and late sacking Ryan a fifth time.
The Bears went into a prevent defense with 4:42 to go and an 18-point lead. They looked awful most of the time, as all teams in prevent do. They got the lead by attacking, and then they went away from it. Hate that. Still, Peppers and Melton destroyed Ryan on one incomplete in the red zone. Do that 40 yards earlier.
But, no matter. The Bears defense stood up. The Bears defense finished. The Bears defense did not give up a touchdown then or at all Sunday, and even scored one itself. The Bears defense made good talent look bad. The Bears defense will do that a lot this year. It’s probably not news, but it’s great news.