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Bears-Falcons: Five Things We Learned

9/11/2011

CHICAGO -- Here are five things we learned following the Chicago Bears' 30-12 victory over the Atlanta Falcons:

1. Don't tell Brian Urlacher defense is old: Last during his weekly media session at Halas Hall, Urlacher rolled his eyes at the notion that the window of opportunity is closing on the Bears' defense. That didn't appear to be the case on Sunday, especially for Urlacher, who made an extremely athletic interception in the fourth quarter, then scooped up a lose ball for a score later in the game. Maybe 33 is the new 23. Veterans Urlacher, Charles Tillman and Julius Peppers all put their stamps on the impressive Week 1 win. If not for a late Jay Cutler turnover, the Falcons wouldn't have even put a touchdown on the board. That's amazing, when you consider Atlanta boasts an offense with Matt Ryan, Michael Turner, Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez.

But the Bears were the better team on Sunday, and it started on defense, which has always been the club's calling card under Lovie Smith. It just goes to show, if the defense and its core players can stay healthy, the Bears have the ability and experience to again be one of the top units in the league. And kudos to defensive tackle Henry Melton, who made a living in the Falcons backfield, along with Peppers.

2. Bears have right idea with Devin Hester: Hester had seven touches against Atlanta (three catches, one punt return and three kickoff returns) and while he could use more, it was encouraging the see the greatest returner of all-time get so many chances on special teams. Special teams coordinator Dave Toub always seems to have a luxury of riches at the return spot, but anytime you can put Hester back deep, it automatically makes the Bears a more dangerous team.

And was that the first time a bubble screen to Hester actually worked? There was a lot of east to west running on Hester's 53-yard run after the catch that nearly resulted in a touchdown, but Bears fans would be crazy to complain. Hester is lethal in the open field -- that's a given. Now it's up to offensive coordinator Mike Martz to find matchups that put the wideout in open space every single week. Let Matt Forte lead the Bears in receptions. The only number I care about when it comes to Hester as big plays, and he already has one in one game. Not bad.

3. Lack of extension not bothering Forte: Forte thinks he is one of the top running backs in the NFL. On Sunday, he played like it. I'm trying to think which play was more impressive: the 56-yard touchdown reception or the 27-yard run. Both plays showed a different side of Forte. The touchdown showcased Forte's ability to bounce off tacklers, and the long run proved he can make people miss -- badly. Atlanta cornerback Dunta Robinson is lucky Falcons coach Mike Smith doesn't make him walk back home, that's how bad Forte made Robinson look on the 27-yard scamper.

I'm already on record saying Forte should get paid, but everybody wins (Forte included) if the running back continues to churn out these types of performances in the regular season (158 all-purpose yards versus Atlanta). This is the kind of player the Bears need to draft every single year. Isn't it funny they don't want to pay him?

4. Cutler means business: This was Cutler's first chance to hit the field for real since the NFC Championship Game, and he passed the test with flying colors. Until he got a little sloppy at the end (why wasn't Caleb Hanie inserted into the game in the fourth quarter?), Cutler was sharp and in control of the offense. Some of the throws he's able to make are insane, especially a few fastballs he zipped past defenders toward the sidelines.

The protection wasn't great (five sacks), but the quarterback hung in there and found a way to get the ball to his playmakers. Four players had over 50 yards receiving, which is also a testament to the playcalling by Martz. But Cutler is the straw that stirs the drink, and even though he can throw a bad pick or light up an assistant coach on the sideline (Bears QB coach Shane Day deserves battle pay), the quarterback has the rare ability to make the Bears a perennial playoff team when he plays with his head on straight.

5. Special teams answered bell: Falcons return man Eric Weems was a ghost on Sunday. Adam Podlesh averaged 48 yards per kick, and had a beautiful punt that pinned Atlanta deep in its own territory. Corey Graham made a few solid special teams tackles, and Robbie Gould was 3 of 3 on field goals. Yep, things are back to normal for the Bears on special teams.