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updated: 10/2/2012 9:44 AM

Bears 3-1 with lots of room for improvement

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Lovie Smith likes to pretend as though he doesn't remember the Bears' slow starts of the past couple years.

Then again, the Bears' head coach tends to have selective memory loss.

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But it's highly unlikely he doesn't recall the Bears starting 2-3 a year ago before a five-game winning streak, or that they were only 4-3 in 2010 before a five-game winning streak sent them soaring toward the NFC title game.

In both seasons, it was the offense and Jay Cutler under Mike Martz struggling mightily to find their way, but with Martz gone he's no longer an excuse.

Still, with a new offensive coordinator and several new players -- not to mention a leaky offensive line -- the offense hadn't found a rhythm through three weeks, and it was once again the defense carrying the day.

So offensive coordinator Mike Tice went to a simpler offense and with the defense dominating, it's all the formula the Bears needed to defeat the Cowboys in Dallas on Monday night and improve to 3-1 -- not that Smith will need reminding.

He only discusses the NFC if the Bears are among the best in the conference. He only cares about what other teams in the division are doing if they're losing. He only worries about the standings when the Bears are at the top of them.

And now they're at the top of the NFC North -- just where Smith expected them to be -- tied with the Vikings (3-1) and ahead of the Packers (2-2) and Lions (1-3).

But this is a test of endurance, this brutal NFL season, and it's all about who can stay relatively healthy and not get buried early, as already has happened to Detroit and New Orleans (0-4).

The Bears have done that, getting through the first quarter of the season at 3-1, and while the first three games were far from complete, they played a good football game Monday night on national TV, which has hardly been a comfortable spot for Cutler in the past.

Cutler played well and got solid pass protection for a change, but it was Dallas that gift-wrapped the game for the visitors.

The Bears got their first present from Dallas when receiver Dez Bryant missed a blitz read and was 20 yards downfield when QB Tony Romo threw it right to Charles Tillman for his sixth career pick-6 and a 10-0 Bears lead.

It was 17-7 Bears and Dallas was driving in the red zone when a pass went through the hands of Kevin Ogletree and popped right to Major Wright for an interception.

A few minutes later after a Cutler fumble, Romo tried to shovel a pass under pressure and gave it right to Lance Briggs, who rumbled 74 yards for another pick-6, and the Bears had a commanding 24-7 lead.

Along with Romo throwing 2 additional interceptions and Bryant dropping 4 passes, it was more than enough help, and the Bears weren't ashamed to accept it.

So while they haven't played a great quarter of the season, the Bears are 3-1 and there's a lot of room for improvement.

Cutler went into Monday's night game dead last in the NFL in quarterback rating (58.6), but in the last two games the Bears have simplified the offense, giving Cutler a chance to hand it off more, get rid of the ball quickly and take what the defense is offering.

Tice also is moving the pocket so Cutler can get comfortable and see the field without getting pounded.

If simpler means winning, Tice can sell it.

And if it keeps Cutler out of the hospital, he will buy it.

Who knows, you might even see the QB smile again.

brozner@dailyherald.com

•Hear Barry Rozner on WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

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