Bearing it all: Lucky Number 700
The Chicago Bears hit another milestone with win #700 on Thursday night. The 16-0 shutout of the Miami Dolphins designates the storied franchise as the all-time, winningest club in the NFL (for regular season wins). Thursday's victory also brings the Bears to 7-3, still leading in their NFC North division.
The win was not unexpected. An offensively decimated-by-injury Dolphins started without the injured center Joe Berger and suffered further when his replacement, Cory Procter, had to be pulled in the first half of Thursday's game due to injury. Star receiver (and former Jay Cutler teammate in Denver) Bandon Marshall played less than one half before a hamstring injury sidelined him. Though left tackle Jake Long played, he'd dislocated and relocated his shoulder just five days prior and was operating at less than 100%. Most notably, the Dolphins were down to their third string quarterback Tyler Thigpen, after both Chad Henne and Chad Pennington were hurt in last Sunday's game. Though Thigpen is by no means a typical, untested third-stringer, without much of a line, without a key weapon and against the Bears defense, he was not set up for much success.
Bears defense played outstandingly. Though Julius Peppers has been distracting lineman for ten weeks, his numbers have been criticized for not notching sacks. Peppers impressed with three sacks and five tackles last night. Cornerback Charles Tillman set the tone for the night with an interception of a Thigpen ball early in the first period. Lance Briggs almost matched his interception of last Sunday, but his attempt was ruled not a catch. Idonije, Urlacher and Melton all boasted sacks, with Melton's 6'3" frame positively enveloping Thigpen as he brought the QB to the ground.
Most impressive on offense was emphasis on a run game: Matt Forte ran for 97 yards in 25 attempts, Chester Taylor ran for ten yards in 11 attempts and even Jay Cutler ran for 28 yards in four attempts. The game's only touchdown was a rushing TD by Forte during which Forte seemed to run those two yards in an invisibility cape, totally untouched for the easy score. After the Bears have struggled so much for yards in the redzone, it was reassuring to see they are capable of success on the ground there. Miami's total defense is average at 6th in the league, but less successful against the run at 20th in the league. Asserting a run game was exactly the right plan by Martz for this game.
Chicago fans may not have been floored by a win against such a short-handed team, but credit for the shutout definitely goes to the Bears defense. That was the first time the Dolphins had been shut out in 40 seasons. And though Chicago fans have had reason to be skeptical of their hot and cold offense, the defense seems to be making the kind of statement they made during their Superbowl run in 2006. In fact, according to Brian Urlacher, he feels this team, under the tutelage of well-respected defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, is better and deeper than the '06 team.
Good fortune continues to be on the Bears side with nine full days to prepare for a threatening Eagles, whose quarterback, Michael Vick, just lit up the Redskins with an offensive onslaught of 59-28. Good thing the Bears defense is feeling their swagger.
Offensively, let's hope we see continued rushing attempts. Martz has adjusted to use Taylor for what he's built for: short yardage and I'm hoping that, too, continues. If Devin Hester is not returning kicks for touchdowns, he needs to step up and catch more like a No. 1 receiver. The missed catch in the endzone last night, on the heels of Tillman's interception, would have been an assured touchdown for any other team's first string wide out. Right now, Johnny Knox is outranking Hester on yardage. In fact, he ranks 19th in the league. If the last two games indicate anything it's that we should be seeing more Knox on receptions and more Hester on returns.