Lovie Smith has a back catalog full of games that started exactly like the Bears' Week 5 matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday. Pitted against a team plagued by inferior talent across the board, the Bears were expected to do what they would inevitably accomplish: blow out the punchless Jags and reinforce their own Super Bowl aspirations. Oh, but it didn't start like that. For one half, Bears-Jags was an exercise in patience for a Chicago fanbase hungry for blood.
For two quarters, the Bears' offense sputtered, failing to take advantage of a highly vulnerable Jacksonville defense. Chicago's D kept Blaine Gabbert, Maurice Jones-Drew and co. at bay, but didn't provide the fireworks we've grown to expect. At halftime, it was 3-3, and an entire city predisposed to living and dying on every Bears drive was again questioning just how good this team really was.
And then the second half started, and the Bears roared. Cornerback Charles Tillman said Smith "cursed us out without cursing" during the intermission, and it would kick-start a dominant second half explosive enough to quell Chicago's football-related anxiety for another 15 days. What could have joined a host of frustrating wins during Smith's tenure was immediately turned into a feel-good party, one set to the tones of 2006. You weren't alone if another defense-led touchdown parade in the 41-3 victory made you nostalgic for the relatively recent past. The Bears' D looks inspired in every way, and it isn't hyperbole to say they're playing as well as the unit that carried them to Super Bowl XLI.
Charles Tillman -- who else? -- scored the game's first touchdown, taking a Gabbert interception to the house early in the third quarter to give the Bears some much-needed breathing room. By the time Lance Briggs took a pick-six to the end zone with seven minutes remaining, an irritating start had officially turned into a statement win. Not that every victory over a team as all-around pathetic as these Jags should instill much confidence, but it was the way the Bears did it: obliterating Jacksonville in the second half, leaving no doubt this defense is very much at the top of its game.
The two defensive touchdowns -- the first time in NFL history a set of teammates has done the pick-six routine in consecutive weeks -- will rightfully draw the headlines, but Chicago's offense was almost as impressive in the second half. The Bears converted 8-of-10 third downs after halftime, held a suffocating lead in time of possession, and blitzed Jacksonville's defense for 309 of their 501 total yards. The 3-3 halftime score surely wasn't how Chicago wanted to start, but that third quarter made everything all better: the Bears ran 25 plays, the Jags ran four. The rout was on, as were Chicago's big picture fantasies.
It's apparent the offense remains a work in progress, but there are signs of life. Matt Forte topped 100 yards rushing for the first time all season. Cutler limited his mistakes after a terrible interception on Chicago's first drive. Brandon Marshall tore it up to continue his blistering pace that already looks predestined to shatter the franchise record books. After snagging 12 passes for 144 yards and a touchdown in Jacksonville, Marshall is now on-pace for 112 receptions and 1,587 yards. It was the first time since 1999 a Bears' pass catcher had topped 100 yards receiving in back-to-back games.
Still, it's all about the defense. They've been better than anyone could have hoped so far, to the point where it's natural to wonder if it can last. So far, so good. By forcing Jacksonville into three turnovers (Corey Wooton's forced fumble was the other), the Bears' defense padded their league-lead in takeaways. Make it 17 on the year, five of which have gone for touchdowns.
The Bears enter the bye at 4-1, and their record could be about to get even more gaudy. A Monday night tilt at home with Detroit likely won't be easy, but the Bears will surely be made substantial favorites by the gamblers of America. Wins over Carolina and at Tennessee would have the Bears at 7-1 before dates with the Texans and 49ers. Don't get ahead of yourself: every week in the NFL is a test, as the first half of the Jags game proved. But the Bears have the chance to take advantage of a cupcake-filled early season schedule and ride to the top of the conference standings. They ride into the bye as healthy as you could possibly hope, even if rookie receiver Alshon Jeffery did injure his hand when making a third quarter touchdown catch.
It's true the Bears' offense hasn't had to flat-out win a game yet, which is likely bullet-point No. 1 for skeptics or Packers fans looking to keep Chicago's rolling optimism in check. There's still time, though. This offense has a lot of new, moving parts, and the defense is playing well enough to grant them a few more games to iron out the kinks. The offense doesn't need to be great now, it just needs to be great in time for the postseason. Who's to say it won't get there? With the way things are going, Chicago is correct to be excited about its football team. This has been a great start.