The Bears went to Atlanta with a case of attitude, perhaps difficult to understand of a team that hasn't won very often since the mid-1990s. After Sunday's 31-3 mauling of the Falcons, in which they scored those 31 points in the final 32 minutes, they want the NFL to know what they've believed for a while.
"This is a good team, we're hungry, we're sick of losing, and we want to get to the next level," said defensive end Bryan Robinson. Then he went a step further in how the "new" Bears approached a road game against a team that came in at 2-1: "We have the attitude, even though we were playing in Atlanta, that `This is our house.' That's what it comes down to."
The Bears (2-1) had not scored 30 points since 1998, but they came in believing they could score "30 or 40" and do it emphatically, according to quarterback Jim Miller.
Besides the 31 points in little more than a half, the Bears had seven sacks, six of them against rookie quarterback Michael Vick, already regarded as one of the quickest ever to play his position. The defense intercepted its first three passes of the season, all in the first half and all against Chris Chandler, who came in as the NFL's No. 1 passer. The Bears forced him out of the game at halftime with a concussion.
The Falcons, playing their first game without running back Jamal Anderson, who is lost for the season with a knee injury, were battered into two fumbles, one on a Phillip Daniels sack that was run back 90 yards by linebacker Brian Urlacher for the second-longest fumble return in Bears history. The five turnovers led to 17 points.
Yet for all the gaudy statistics, it was the way they won rather than the margin that the Bears considered important. They too often have led teams in the past and failed to take the decisive step at the game's pivotal moment to seal the victory. That they did Sunday on both offense and defense.
"The last couple of years when we've had teams on the ropes, we just haven't been able to put teams away," Miller said. "That's another step that this team is starting to make. We weren't playing our best, but we knew coming into this game that we were going to score 30 or 40 points, and we knew we were going to do it with authority. Guys made up their minds and we did it."
Thanks to Tampa Bay's win over Green Bay, the Bears are a half-game behind the Packers and tied with the Buccaneers for second in the NFC Central. The win also put them above .500 for the first time since a win at Minnesota made them 3-2 in 1999.
The victory didn't come easily or comfortably at first, however. Brad Maynard punts left the Falcons at their 6- and 8-yard lines in the first half, and the offense netted nothing on the three of its first six possessions that started at midfield or better.
That began to change when offensive coordinator John Shoop gambled on a gimmick play, having Miller throw behind the line to wide receiver Marty Booker. The former high school quarterback then threw 34 yards to a wide-open Marcus Robinson for the game's first score late in the second quarter.
"That was a pretty pass," said Miller, who had his next pass intercepted. "[Booker] left it a little short, but I overthrew mine and it got picked off, so he's coaching me a little bit."
One play later the two teams threw interceptions on three consecutive plays, the last a pickoff by safety Tony Parrish, who returned the ball to the Atlanta 26. Paul Edinger's 42-yard field goal as time expired gave the Bears a 10-0 lead at halftime.
However, the truly defining moments, as far as the Bears were concerned, were yet to come. An 8 1/2-minute first drive of the second half ended with Miller needing to make a saving tackle after his pass to Robinson was deflected and intercepted inside the Atlanta 20. But linebacker Warrick Holdman forced a fumble at the end of a 30-yard Vick completion, and two plays later Miller and Booker combined for that decisive play, a 63-yard touchdown pass for a 17-0 lead that iced the outcome.
The Falcons drove to the Bears' 3 on their next possession, but the Daniels sack and forced fumble, returned by Urlacher for another score, was an exclamation point applied by a defense that already had supplied so many.
"You've got to believe," summarized defensive tackle Keith Traylor. "I don't think the belief part of it was there before.
"This was a big one. I think we're going to open up some eyes in this [NFL] world. Now they're going to start believing."
Like the Bears already are.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times