The Chicago Bears defense is turning into a creature distinct by ruthless efficiency, if not evolving into something that borders on the full-blown supernatural. A week after letting an inferior Panthers team boss them around Soldier Field for three and half quarters, the Bears were not about to let the Tennessee Titans be so lucky. The Titans were not allowed to breath for even a single play.
Tennessee quarterback Matt Hasselbeck fired a pass 23-yards down the field on the opening play from scrimmage to Kenny Britt, a seemingly promising start wiped away milliseconds later when Charles Tillman hit the pigskin with a right hook and jarred the ball free. The Bears would recover, setting the tone in record time while simultaneously breaking their opponent's will to compete. What would unfurl at LP Field would be the franchise's most dominating performance of my lifetime, a no-doubter turned laugh-riot characterized by one team (the Bears) marching so thoroughly unimpeded over their opponent that it resembled an SEC powerhouse trouncing a D-II cupcake in an early season college contest more than a real, defined NFL game. When the fireworks ceased and the "Let's go Bears" chants finally dissipated into the Nashville air, the result was the most lopsided victory the franchise has seen in many moons: Bears 51, Titans 20. This is, somehow, real life.
The opening play would set the scene for the entire contest. A blocked punt recovered for a touchdown by Corey Wootten gave the Bears' their first touchdown of the game and first special teams score of the season. Devin Hester would come hyper-close to adding the second three minutes later when he returned a punt 43-yards to set up a Matt Forte touchdown run. The Titans ran one successful offensive play before Brian Urlacher intercepted Hasselbeck and returned the ball 46 yards for the Bears' seventh defensive touchdown in eight games. Just for good measure, Charles Tillman would force another fumble on the ensuing Titans drive and the Chicago offense capitalized when Jay Cutler hit Brandon Marshall for the first of his three touchdown receptions on the day. The Bears' offense had only 53 yards in the first quarter, but the team had 28 points. Have our lives ever been this good?
I say no. Bears fans too young to witness the franchise's mid '80s run of dominance have witnessed a lot of bad football before Lovie Smith came in and at least righted one side of the ball. But as the final horn sounded to signal the halfway mark of the season, it became readily apparent that this Bears team is capable of doing things the teams that came before them could never even dream of. They are capable of a blowout victory.
The 51 points scored by Chicago were most the franchise has put up since dropping 60 on the Packers in 1980, and it's safe to assume they could have passed that mark had they not grounded their own attack early in the fourth quarter after Tillman's fourth and final forced fumble and Marshall's third touchdown catch. Cutler finished without an interception and with a QB Rating of 138. Matt Forte gained over 100 yards on just 12 carries and also took a screen pass 47 yards. And then there's Marshall, who continues to re-write the Bears' record books. Just think: Kellen Davis led the Bears in receiving touchdowns a year ago with five. Marshall now has seven, putting him on pace to nearly triple the team's individual high from last season.
The Bears are 7-1 and the world is in their hand. You want to drop a checkpoint at this exact moment, to save this spot if and when the Bears inevitably run into injuries, more talented opponents, or both. But right now, through exactly 50 percent of the 2012 campaign, the Bears have nearly been perfect. They have every analyst on Earth fawning over them and football crazies in this city ready to anoint the hometown team a Super Bowl contender. Don't be shy. These Bears are worthy of exhausting all of the superlatives in one's vocabulary. Everything is perfect.
But will it stay that way? After plastering the bottom-feeders of the AFC South by a combined score of 133-44, the Bears now face the division's only elite team, the Houston Texans, in a Sunday night throw-down. After that would be a Monday nighter against the mighty San Francisco 49ers. The Bears and their fans have the right to be confident going into the two-headed litmus test. Why not? This team has bigger goals than defeating the Lions, Panthers or Titans, and these back-to-back showdowns against fellow elite teams offers a perfect mid-season barometer for Chicago's true worth.
Part of me wants to think it's all too good to be true. Can the defense *really* be counted on to score a touchdown in every game? With eight games remaining, they're only two scores shy of tying the NFL record for most defensive touchdowns in a season. For all we know, that could be broken by halftime vs. Houston. Can the Bears' shoddy offensive line survive against a real pass rush like the one the Texans and 49ers are ready to bring? Can Cutler finally rid himself of those atrocious efforts that lead to national discussions about his facial patterns? Only time will tell, but one thing is already in cement: these Bears -- offense, defense and special teams -- boast a certain swagger that hasn't been seen in this city in 25 years. They are good and they know it. Now comes the real test.
Start your viral campaigns to get Charles Tillman the Defensive Player of the Year award. Hell, why not MVP? Keep those Marshall trackers going and get ready to torch the league-wide defensive record books. The Bears have set us up for a wildly entertaining second half of the season. If it's anything like the first half, Chicago will be in for a huge party.