Haugh: Defense drives the Bears
ARLINGTON, Texas (MCT) — In his sights, Lance Briggs saw an open field as vast as the possibilities suddenly in front of the Chicago Bears.
Yes, even potential seems bigger in Texas.
“I was just breaking on (Dallas Cowboys tight end) Jason Witten, the quarterback (Tony Romo) scrambled up and was going to try to shovel it to Witten when he got hit,” Briggs said after the Bears’ convincing 34-18 win over the Cowboys. “The ball came right to me.”
Like the opportunity in the air Monday night at Cowboys Stadium, Briggs seized it. Then the Pro Bowl linebacker surprised everybody but himself in showing safety speed returning the interception 74 yards for a touchdown.
“I’ve always had it, but I just never had to use it like that,” Briggs said of his burst.
You might say Briggs has hidden it well from his teammates.
“I haven’t seen Lance run that fast before,” Julius Peppers said.
This supposedly aging defense is getting good at surprising people.
More than anything after the first quarter of the NFL season, to use Lovie Smith’s football fraction system, we know that the Bears have emerged as a defensive football team like so many of his others. The offense finally held up its end in the second half but, clearly, that isn’t the side of the ball creating a buzz around the league after the Bears intercepted Romo five times on national TV.
“We were mad about the late touchdown (with 34 seconds left) to give them 18, but we absolutely made a statement here,” Briggs said.
In bold letters the Bears declared that once their offense plays as consistently as the defense, they will join the NFL’s elite. Two years ago the Bears built off a resounding victory in the same building on their way to an NFC North title. This one carried a similar feel.
When Bears cornerback Charles Tillman returned an interception 25 yards for a touchdown, it exploited the way receiver Dez Bryant failed to recognize the blitz. It also confirmed a bad read by many of us about which side of the ball Bears opponents would fear most in 2012.
Standing on the opposite sideline, former Bear and Cowboys backup quarterback Kyle Orton might have thought he had seen this before, circa 2005 or 2006.
So far the identity of the Bears has been shaped by hard-hitting cornerbacks more than their hard-headed quarterback. So far the Bears look as if they can score on defense as easily as they can in the passing game.
That comes as a surprise to many of us who expected the Bears offense to dominate more after Jay Cutler got everything he wanted in the off-season. But, surprisingly, this isn’t Cutler’s team right now, not even after a redemptive performance outplaying Romo. This is the defense’s team. The sooner Cutler understands that, the better it will be for everybody.
You wonder about Cutler’s mindset only because he again raised questions about his ability to get along with others in the second quarter during a telling exchange with offensive coordinator Mike Tice. When Tice sat down next to Cutler on the Bears bench in the second quarter, Cutler walked away. When Tice tried to get Cutler’s attention, his quarterback ignored him. The video spread around the Web quicker than Lindsay Lohan gossip.
“Just because I walk off and go get water, it doesn’t mean much,” Cutler said.
Cutler and his army of apologists will point out the Bears won and similar incidents occur between offensive coordinators and quarterbacks every Sunday on NFL sidelines — and they will be right. But at some point people have to realize these kind of run-ins aren’t routine for every quarterback and it can’t always be somebody else’s fault.
A fine line exists because Cutler still can make so many plays improvising so he must do more than a typical game-manager. When he escaped the rush of Cowboys linebacker Victor Butler on third-and-10 and found tight end Kellen Davis for 16 yards, it was classic Cutler. When he lofted a beautiful 34-yard TD pass to where only Devin Hester could reach, he showed rare touch. When Cutler converted one third down after another, he showed command, lacking when his passer rating was below 60 in back-to-back games for the first time in his career.
He can be such an asset because of his ability. He cannot become a liability because of his attitude. Dominant in a hostile venue, the Bears looked like a team headed places if everybody gets on board, including their quarterback. Cutler doesn’t necessarily have to drive for the Bears to get where they want to go.
As Briggs showed on his interception return, the defense still knows the way.