- Kevin Seifert, NFL Nation
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Before we say anything else, let's take a moment to step back and establish the 4-1 Bears are tied for the best record in the NFC with the Atlanta Falcons. I can't say I saw that coming as the Bears struggled through the preseason and won their season opener by the slimmest of margins. But the more I watch the Bears, the more I wonder if they aren't simply following the formula they used to great success during the last decade. Their defense- and special teams-dominated victories might not be easy on the eye, and might provide a weekly field day for aesthetic connoisseurs, but ultimately the end result is all that matters.
Quarterback Todd Collins took a page from the Jonathan Quinn handbook. Like Quinn, Collins is a veteran backup who made his coaches feel better about emergency situations. Until he actually gets into a game. Collins' horrid performance Sunday -- four interceptions, six passes completed to his own team -- should guarantee that he never gets on the field again this season as long as the Bears have another option. Backup Caleb Hanie probably benefits from the excitement of the unknown, and it's fully possible that the only difference between him and Collins is that Collins has already shown us he can't play. But if starter Jay Cutler needs another week to recover from a concussion, or if there is another time this season when he can't start, I think we can all agree it's now Hanie's turn. By the way, here's some trivia for you. There have been five quarterbacks in the past 20 years who have thrown four interceptions without a touchdown pass in a game. Two of them did it for the Bears: Collins on Sunday and Rex Grossman in 2006. (Thanks to Keith Hawkins of ESPN's Stats & Information for passing that along.)
Julius Peppers got plenty of attention in his return to Carolina, but how about the performance of fellow defensive end Israel Idonije? Five days after the Bears released former starter Mark Anderson, Idonije collected three sacks and a team-high seven tackles as well as a forced fumble. It's not fair to expect that kind of production every week, but it's about time someone took advantage of the mismatches created when opponents prioritize Peppers in their blocking schemes.
And here is one issue I still don't get:
Will offensive coordinator Mike Martz consider Sunday's 218-yard rushing effort a mirage against a bad defense, or will he work harder to incorporate the running game into his scheme? Matt Forte looked like a gamebreaker Sunday, scoring on first-half runs of 18 and 68 yards. (Be sure to credit receiver Johnny Knox with a strong block of Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn on the first run.) Meanwhile, backup Chester Taylor helped the Bears run out the clock with 10 carries in the second half. With or without Cutler down the road, the Bears should take careful notes on this performance.