- Kevin Seifert, NFL Nation
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Based on the final score, it's hard to believe the Bears needed a nine-minute drive at the start of the second half just to take a 6-3 lead. It also might be hard to digest that after a 501-yard offensive performance, the Bears' highest total since 1989, the defense deserves top credit for this victory. The floodgates didn't open until cornerback Charles Tillman returned an interception for a touchdown on the Jaguars' ensuing possession. Only then did the offense get in gear. In the end, the Jaguars managed just 189 total yards and 10 first downs. In the Bears' current three-game winning streak, the defense has actually scored more touchdowns (six) than the offense (five). The Bears' defense leads the NFL with 17 takeaways, is tied for the lead with 18 sacks and is the first in league history to return five interceptions for touchdowns in the first five games of a season. No matter what the stat sheet says or media hype suggests, the Bears continue to be a team led by its defense.
With that said, the Bears should be encouraged by what they've seen from receiver Brandon Marshall over the past two weeks. Here are the numbers: 19 receptions, 282 yards and two touchdowns. Sunday, quarterback Jay Cutler targeted him 17 times. No other pass-catcher had more than four passes thrown his way. Much of Marshall's success has come once the Bears are already ahead, but let's not diminish the value of putting teams away. It's not surprising that his one-on-one opportunities have come more often with the Bears in the lead and opponents lineup up to stop the run. Here's the next step for the Marshall-Cutler duo: Early success to stake the Bears to a first-quarter lead.
All of a sudden, the Bears have a tackle under scrutiny -- and it's not J'Marcus Webb. Right tackle Gabe Carimi, who many thought was the best offensive lineman on the team entering the season, had a rough go of it Sunday. A holding penalty negated as 12-yard pass to tight end Kellen Davis, and Carimi committed consecutive false starts in the third quarter. That brought Carimi's penalty total this season to six in five games. He's been flagged for three false starts, twice for holding and once for unnecessary roughness. The bye will come at a good time for Carimi to reflect on the early portions of the season and presumably make the necessary adjustments.
And here is one issue I still don't get:
Where did Corey Wootton come from? I know his background, of course. He was a highly-regarded pass-rusher at Northwestern whose production tailed off while recovering from a knee injury, and his first two NFL seasons after the Bears made him a fourth-round draft choice were almost totally vacant. The Bears drafted Shea McClellin in the first round this year, and I wrote off Wootton as a talented player who couldn't stay on the field and was destined to play elsewhere in 2012. Instead, he has made a significant impact in limited playing time. He played 22 snaps Sunday and had two sacks, bringing his season total to 3.5 along with two forced fumbles. He's reached those totals while playing on about 40 percent of the Bears' defensive snaps. Wootton has my vote for perhaps the biggest surprise of the early season in the NFC North.