By Brad Biggs, Chicago Tribune reporter
12:34 AM CDT, September 10, 2012
As an Arlington Heights native, Colts safety Tom Zbikowski remembers years of bland, rarely potent offenses from the Bears.
Standing in the mostly cleared-out visiting locker room at Soldier Field on Sunday afternoon, Zbikowski shook his head after the Bears completed a 41-21 thumping of his new team to begin the season. He had never been able to say before that the Bears had a complete, formidable attack, the kind that sparks hopes of a Super Bowl.
"But you can now," he said. "They've got skill-position players and they're everywhere. Running backs are good, receivers are good. They've got it put together right now. We didn't play our best game, but a lot of that is due to the level they played at."
It didn't begin without a here-they-go-again moment. Jay Cutler was sacked for a 12-yard loss on his first snap, and his second pass, intended for running back Matt Forte in the flat, was intercepted by linebacker Jerrell Freeman and returned 4 yards for a touchdown.
Cutler completed only one of his first 10 passes for 13 yards. But the debut of Mike Tice as offensive coordinator can only be considered a success across the board.
The offensive line held up, aided with Colts outside linebacker Dwight Freeney exiting in the first quarter with an ankle injury. After that, the Bears rolled the Colts, who won just two games a year ago to land the No. 1 pick in the draft and quarterback Andrew Luck.
Cutler completed 21 of 35 passes for 333 yards and two touchdowns, and Michael Bush and Matt Forte combined to rush for three scores. The blowout allowed coach Lovie Smith to rest middle linebacker Brian Urlacher early in the third quarter. Urlacher started his 169th career game despite practicing only three times since July 31.
The Bears now gear up for a short week. They play Thursday night at Lambeau Field with the Packers coming off a surprising 30-22 loss at home to the 49ers.
The offense totaled 428 yards, the fifth most in nine seasons under Smith, as the revamped corps of wide receivers made plays repeatedly. Brandon Marshall caught nine passes for 119 yards, including a 3-yard touchdown, and rookie Alshon Jeffery had three receptions for 80 yards with a 42-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.
The Bears opened training camp talking about being explosive on offense, and they delivered nine plays of 20 yards or more. They had 61 all last season.
"We have the pieces to be a great offense," Marshall said. "It was a great start."
The veteran defense overwhelmed Luck, who was intercepted three times, all plays cornerback Tim Jennings had a hand in. Luck also lost a fumble on a sack by Corey Wootton. The Bears got a fifth takeaway on a fumbled kickoff return.
Luck completed 23 of 45 passes for 309 yards and a 4-yard touchdown pass to Donnie Avery, but Jennings picked him off twice and tipped another ball that free safety Chris Conte intercepted. The secondary remained stout without cornerback Charles Tillman, who left in the second quarter with a right leg injury.
"We wanted to make a statement across the league that we made some improvements in the offseason, depth at a lot of key positions, and we wanted to let them know the Bears are here," Jennings said. "We're trying to get to the ultimate goal."
The defense totaled three sacks with Henry Melton getting two.
The Colts were short-handed at wide receiver with Austin Collie (concussion) and T.Y. Hilton (shoulder) out.
"Not too many fond memories of an opening loss," Luck said.
Forte rushed for 80 yards and added 40 yards receiving. He scored on a 6-yard run with a nice cut, and Bush carried 12 times for 42 yards, scoring on two 1-yard runs.
"Those guys are special," center Roberto Garza said. "I'm talking about Brandon, Hess (Devin Hester), Earl (Bennett), 17 (Jeffery), all of these guys are making plays. And when we protect Jay, you see what he can do. He had a hell of a day today, made some great calls and really took charge of the game."
It's only one game, but it sure looks like a different brand of football.
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