- Michael C. Wright, ESPN.com Spurs Reporter
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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Chicago turned a short week of preparation into a defensive shutout of a depleted team Thursday night in a 16-0 victory over the Miami Dolphins.
Here are a few quick thoughts from the Bears’ third straight victory and their first shutout in 63 games:
What it means: Like Green Bay, the Bears are also on a three-game winning streak. But the difference is the Bears continue to lead an NFC North race that currently comes down to just two teams. Chicago’s victory over the Dolphins raises the stakes for the Packers, who face division-rival Minnesota on Sunday, needing to keep pace with the Bears.
Sackfest: Led by Julius Peppers, the Bears racked up a season-high six sacks Thursday night against a depleted Dolphins offensive line competing with a backup quarterback in third-stringer Tyler Thigpen.
Playing with an injured shoulder, Miami left tackle Jake Long surprisingly held his own for a half against Peppers, who seemed poised to have a breakout performance against the Dolphins. Peppers registered his first sack since Oct. 3, while boosting his season total to five sacks. Peppers dropped Thigpen for a 1-yard loss with 1:25 left in the first half, in addition to batting down a pass. Two of Peppers’ sacks came in the first half, and he tacked on another sack in the fourth quarter.
Miami’s offensive line, meanwhile, became further depleted in the first quarter when backup center Cory Procter -- subbing for starter Joe Berger -- left the game with a knee injury. The Dolphins slid over guard Richie Incognito to fill in for Procter.
About time: Running back Matt Forte produced his first 100-yard performance since Oct. 10 at Carolina, but there’s still quite a bit of catching up to do, considering Forte has reached the century mark just twice all season.
Melton contributing: Considered almost an afterthought in the club’s plans on defense headed into the season, Melton seems to be making some meaningful contributions in the defensive line rotation, and registered his second sack in two outings Thursday night.
A second-year player, Melton has contributed at least two tackles in four of his past five games, and has been on the active roster every week. As a rookie last year, Melton was placed on the injured reserve before the regular season even started.
Law of threes: The Dolphins had their third center (Richie Incognito) hiking the ball to the No. 3 quarterback (Thigpen). The Bears, meanwhile, seemed able to score solely in increments of three, taking a 9-0 lead in the third quarter on three field goals from Robbie Gould.
Taking it further, three different players -- Melton, Peppers, and Idonije -- were responsible for the Bears’ first three sacks, which also occurred within the first three quarters. The club didn’t post another sack until the fourth quarter.
What’s next: A week from Sunday the Bears host a potent Philadelphia Eagles squad that stomped the Washington Redskins on Monday Night Football behind a phenomenal effort by quarterback Michael Vick. Chicago’s defense has been consistent all season, but it faces by far its biggest test in containing a red-hot Vick.
Rapid Reaction: The Bears shut out the Dolphins for their third win in a row.