Cowboys easy pickings for Bears' defense
IRVING, Texas -- Once again, the Bears' defense came up with some huge plays Monday night, and they were more than enough to lead the visitors to a 34-18 victory over the Cowboys.
With the defense picking off 5 passes, the Bears' offense simply went along for the ride, doing more than enough on its end to help lift the winners to a 3-1 mark and into a first-place tie with the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC North. Dallas fell to 2-2.
"It's about (preventing) third-down conversions and taking the ball away," said coach Lovie Smith, whose Bears teams are 8-2 on Monday night after allowing the Cowboys to convert just 3 of 9 third downs. "Just outstanding play from our defense."
Midway through the third quarter, with the Cowboys in the red zone threatening to cut into the Bears' 17-7 lead, Tony Romo fired over the middle to Kevin Ogletree.
But cornerback Tim Jennings appeared to get a hand on the ball as it bounced off Ogletree high in the air and into the hands of safety Major Wright at the 6-yard line. It was the first of 2 interceptions by Wright, who has 3 in the past two games.
Three plays later Jay Cutler gave the ball right back to the Cowboys when he coughed up a fumble when sacked from behind by DeMarcus Ware.
But the Bears' defense took the ball back on the next play when Henry Melton hit Romo as he tried to shovel a pass forward. Seven-time Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs snagged it and rumbled 74 yards for a touchdown and a 24-7 lead with 6:11 left in the third quarter.
"You guys didn't know he could run that fast," Smith said of Briggs. "You normally don't see a linebacker run an interception back that far, but it's not like we haven't seen him make big plays before."
It was the second defensive touchdown of the night for the Bears, the third in two games. Midway through the fourth quarter, D.J. Moore got the Bears' fourth of 5 interceptions, ending the Cowboys' final threat and turning the game into a blowout after Cutler hooked up with Brandon Marshall for a 31-yard TD.
As it has been most of the season, the defensive performance was a collaborative effort with the defensive line putting pressure on the quarterback and the secondary taking advantage of hurried throws.
"Our D-line has been rushing the passer extremely well," Briggs said. "And when you have a great pass rush, you give your DBs and linebackers opportunities to make big plays."
Having taken a 3-0 lead just 1:37 earlier, cornerback Charles Tillman was the beneficiary of a miscommunication between Romo and wide receiver Dez Bryant late in the first half. The result was the Bears' first defensive touchdown of the night.
Romo threw short, expecting a hitch route from Bryant, who instead ran a hitch-and-go, leaving Tillman all alone to make probably the easiest of his 31 career interceptions. His 25-yard return gave the Bears a 10-0 lead with 2:38 left in the first half.
But the Cowboys' quarterback responded immediately, throwing 9 straight passes and completing 8 for 80 yards, capped by a 10-yard scoring toss to wide receiver Miles Austin to cut the Bears' lead to 10-7.
Cutler opened up the Bears' offense immediately after halftime, throwing to rookie Alshon Jeffery for 11 and 17 yards and Brandon Marshall for 10 before lofting a deep ball over the middle that Devin Hester caught up to with a diving catch at the goal line for a 34-yard TD and a 17-7 lead.
As usual, Cutler created some controversy in a nationally televised, prime-time game, abruptly walking away from offensive coordinator Mike Tice early in the game when the coach approached him on the sidelines after an unproductive possession.
After a mediocre first half (7 of 12 for 56 yards and a 70.1 passer rating), Cutler was on fire in the third quarter, completing all 8 of his passes for 133 yards, 1 TD and a perfect passer rating of 158.3.
He finished with a 140.1 rating, the third-highest of his career, completing 18 of 24 passes for 275 yards.