The Bears' defense played so well Sunday that it only needed a mediocre performance from the offense to defeat the St. Louis Rams, and that's what it got.
The defense allowed just 160 total yards, the third-lowest total in Lovie Smith's nine years as head coach. It sacked Rams quarterback Sam Bradford six times, picked him off twice and scored once, performing almost all the heavy lifting in a 23-6 victory.
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"Some days we may have to score 41 points to win," said Smith, who was fortunate Sunday was not one of those days.
Any expectations that quarterback Jay Cutler would bounce back with a big game following his 4-interception fiasco against at Green Bay in Week 2 were dashed early on a brisk, sun-splashed day at Soldier Field.
Cutler should have been picked off early in the first quarter when he sailed a pass way high to Kellen Davis that hit Rams rookie cornerback Janoris Jenkins in the hands but was dropped.
Later in the quarter, Cutler's low pass to Brandon Marshall bounced off his hands into the grasp of former Pro Bowl cornerback Cortland Finnegan.
Cutler, who had a 28.2 passer rating against the Packers, finished the first quarter Sunday with a passer rating of 8.9, completing 4 of 11 passes.
He finished with a 58.9 rating, completing 17 of 31 passes for 183 yards with 1 interception and no touchdowns while being sacked twice.
Cutler and the Bears finally figured out in the second quarter that the Rams were conceding underneath routes and could be attacked on the ground.
Finally they took advantage. Mixing in short and intermediate passes with runs, the Bears drove 81 yards, and Michael Bush's 3-yard plunge gave them a 10-0 lead 1:56 before halftime.
"We had some shots early on, and they were playing deep," Cutler said. "(So) we had to adjust and throw some underneath stuff."
The same situation occurred on a Bears possession that began with the final play of the third quarter. Short passes of 10, 10 and 8 yards to rookie Alshon Jeffery, 12 and 7 yards to tight ends Kellen Davis and Kyle Adams, respectively, and a 21-yard scramble by Cutler got the Bears to the Rams' 4.
But they had to settle for Robbie Gould's 22-yard field goal and a 13-6 lead with 9:45 remaining.
That was more than enough scoring for a defensive line that is rushing the passer better than at any time in Smith's reign as Bears coach.
Five different players, including four linemen, had a hand in the 6 sacks, with left end Israel Idonije leading the way with his first 2½ sacks of the season.
Tackles Amobi Okoye and Stephen Paea each added 1 sack, as did linebacker Nick Roach, while right end Julius Peppers had a half-sack.
"Our defensive line has played outstanding ball all year, and they set the tone of the day," Smith said. "Idonije was outstanding. That pressure really did a lot."
Through three games the Bears have 14 sacks, all but 1 by their linemen. That puts the defense on pace for 75 sacks, more than double the 33 it got last season. The line is on pace for 69 sacks after getting just 30 in 2011.
Seven different players have produced the 13 sacks by the defensive line, which rotates at least that many players on a weekly basis. All of them are contributing, which is one of the keys to the unit's improvement.
"The rotation is key," Idonije said. "Your instinct is to play every play, but you do yourself a disservice when you do that because you wear down. With the rotation, even in the fourth quarter, you're still fresh and you feel good.
"We're fortunate we have a lot of great talent, guys who can rush and play the run. So the level of play doesn't drop when those guys come in.
"It just gives your team, and the defense, the ability to be relentless and to continue to assault the offense."
The Bears' defense also scored as many touchdowns as the offense. It provided some breathing room with safety Major Wright's 45-yard interception return for a touchdown with 9:06 left.
Cornerback Tim Jennings, who had the Bears' other interception, made Wright's pick possible by deflecting a pass intended for Danny Amendola.
The Rams' wideout came in leading the league with 20 catches, including 15 in Week 2. But he was limited to just 5 catches by Jennings and nickel corner D.J. Moore.
This was the year the Bears' offense was supposed to be able to carry a defense that some have referred to as "aging," but so far the opposite has been true.
"We can't control what the offense is doing," said Jennings, who already has 4 interceptions, twice as many as his previous single-season best.
"We can only control what we do, and we feel like, if we get the offense back the ball as much as we can, we've got a good chance of winning games.
"That's our goal; that's our objective."