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updated: 10/2/2012 1:30 AM

Bears pass all tests on big night

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The Ryder Cup has gone away, baseball is going away, the Bulls' season doesn't start for a month, and the Blackhawks' might not start for a year.

So while the Bears are always No. 1 in town, right now they essentially are the only one.

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Monday night was a good time for them to begin a run toward the Super Bowl in earnest.

So how did they react to this scenario?

Very nicely, thank you, with a 34-18 victory at Dallas in what in retrospect was rather routine.

It wasn't supposed to be. It was supposed to be a struggle in a hostile environment against another NFC contender with the country watching.

"Our guys get up for 'Monday Night Football,'" Bears coach Lovie Smith said.

Plus the game was in Cowboys Stadium, which in a short time has become the site of monumental events in football, basketball and boxing.

What a platform for the Bears to strut their stuff, for Jay Cutler to polish his image and for the defense to embark on finishing what they started this year.

The Bears' stuff was good enough to improve their record to 3-1. Cutler played his most complete game of the season. The defense accounted for 2 touchdowns on interception returns.

"When our defense is playing like that it's hard to lose," Cutler said.

Want more?

OK, Matt Forte had a chance to demonstrate the ability to play hurt. Brandon Marshall could walk his eloquent talk. The Bears could get winning a road game out of the way.

Forte gained 8 yards on his first run. He immediately left with his recovering ankle throbbing, was taped up and returned to provide balance to the offense.

Marshall played like a No. 1 wide receiver, while the Cowboys' wacky Dez Bryant played like a knucklehead.

Overall what many expected to be a difficult road loss when the schedule was announced became an easy victory. Similarly to the week before when the Bears beat St. Louis, they let the Cowboys beat themselves.

Dallas' Tony Romo -- in the Cutler mold in that he's still trying to prove he can be a championship quarterback -- threw 5 interceptions. Both these quarterbacks are veterans still trying to define themselves, just as the Bears and the Cowboys are trying to define themselves.

On this night Cutler was closer to elite status than Romo was and the Bears closer to an NFC title than the Cowboys are.

The Super Bowl is a long way off. No team is what it will be in January. Everybody is in the developmental stage now, and judging by Monday night the Bears are developing a lot more positively than the Cowboys are.

The Bears go to Jacksonville next week with that 3-1 record, a road victory in hand, a first-place tie in the NFC North and early separation from the 2-2 Cowboys in the conference.

"It's still hard week in and week out to win football games," Cutler said, refusing to get carried away. "We have to go back to work."

Nonetheless it's hard not to get giddy after even the offensive line played well.

The Bears clearly passed a screen test -- a big-screen test if you have a 60-inch TV -- and appear primed for the challenges ahead.

On an otherwise uninspiring local landscape the Bears are the only ones who can give Chicago sports fans something to be inspired about.

mimrem@dailyherald.com

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