The Bears played Sunday night at Soldier Field like a team that came in on the verge of falling out of playoff contention and into the cellar of the NFC North after just six weeks.
But because they responded with their most complete performance of the season, the Bears are back at .500 and heading across the pond to play the Bucs at 3-3 with the momentum from a 39-10 blowout victory over the Vikings, who fell to 1-5.
"We talk about three phases, and all three phases contributed tonight," coach Lovie Smith said. "We hope that's who we are, the team you saw tonight."
Offensively, the Bears put together the balanced attack that has eluded them most of the season, picking up large chunks of yardage through the air and on the ground. Matt Forte's 87 yards led a ground attack that contributed 119 yards and quarterback Jay Cutler's passer rating of 115.9 was his best of the season. He was sacked just once after being dumped 18 times in the first five games.
A defense that had been suspect at best through five weeks, imposed its will on the Vikings, shutting down the NFC's leading rusher, Adrian Peterson (39 yards on 12 carries), and putting enough pressure on quarterback Donovan McNabb to keep the Vikings out of the end zone in an impressive first half.
The pass rush got to McNabb four times in the third quarter, including two by Julius Peppers, and the defense looked nothing like the group that came in ranked 29th in total yards, 28th in rushing yards and 27th in passing yards allowed. The Bears were also 28th in sack percentage.
It finally seems as if franchise quarterback Cutler and free-agent wide receiver Roy Williams (three catches, 50 yards) are on the same page after an awkward and lengthy getting-to-know-you period. Twice in the first quarter, Cutler drilled strikes to Williams cutting across the middle of the Vikings' secondary, picking up 17 yards each time. Both catches helped set up Bears touchdowns.
But Williams was just one of many targets Cutler hit in his most effective performance of the season. It seemed as if every weapon in the Bears' offense was on the same page as the quarterback, who completed passes to seven different receivers in the first quarter alone.
Cutler had more time to throw than in any previous game this season, even though he was playing behind the fifth different line alignment in six games. It appears offensive line coach Mike Tice may have found a winning combination with left tackle J'Marcus Webb, left guard Chris Williams, center Roberto Garza, right guard Chris Spencer and right tackle Lance Louis -- at least for now.
TRENDING: After getting gashed for 204 yards on just three big plays by the Lions in Week 5, the Bears allowed a 30-yard and a 23-yard pass play while limiting the Vikings to 286 total yards. The Bears did not allow a run of longer than eight yards.
LINEUP WATCH: Rookie free safety Chris Conte got his first NFL start and had six tackles, second on the team, including a key stop in the red zone that forced the Vikings to settle for a field-goal attempt, which they missed.
--DE Julius Peppers didn't practice all week with a sprained knee and was listed as doubtful, but he had 2.0 sacks and played his best game of the season.
--RB Matt Forte had his second-least productive day of the season, but still rushed for 87 yards on 17 carries and caught a team-best six passes for 36 yards.
--QB Jay Cutler's 115.9 passer rating was his best of the season, and he was sacked just once while throwing two TD passes and no picks.
--DT Stephen Paea, a second-round pick who was inactive for the first five games, sacked Donovan McNabb for a safety on his second snap in the NFL.
--WR Devin Hester had two touchdowns, one on a 98-yard kickoff return and another on a 48-yard reception. He had season bests of five receptions and 91 receiving yards.
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