October 7, 2001
"This is a good team. We're hungry, we're sick of losing and we want to get to the next level," Chicago Bears defensive end Bryan Robinson told the Chicago Tribune after his team hammered the Atlanta Falcons 31-3 before a crowd of 46,483 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Georgia.
"We have the attitude. Even though we were playing in Atlanta, that ‘This is our house.' That's what it comes down to," said Robinson, who recorded three solo tackles against the Falcons.
In 2001, the Bears would post a record of 13-3 and garner the club's first National Football Conference Central Division title in 11 years. During the decade-plus between divisional crowns, Chicago had logged a regular season record of 67-93 for a winning percentage of .418 and had not recorded a winning record since 1995. The 31 points scored by Chicago represented the most by a Bears club since a 31-27 victory over the Detroit Lions at Soldier Field in October of 1998.
The lopsided victory over Atlanta improved the Bears record to 2-1 and would ultimately be part of a six-game winning streak, while the Falcons fell to 2-2 and eventually finished the season in third place in the NFC West with a mark of 7-9.
"You have to give Chicago credit because they're really a good football team," said Falcons cornerback Ashley Ambrose in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "We were about to go around that corner to get to the next level, but we ran into a wall."
Brown gets Vick after coming on a safety blitz.
Erik S. Lesser/Getty Images
"When you're out there and getting run through and people aren't doing things they're supposed to do, you get tired, you get mad, you get upset, and it's not fun," Chicago linebacker Rosevelt Colvin said in the Tribune. "But now we've got guys doing the right things. You're getting off the field. Everyone has an opportunity to make plays, and it's all coming together."
With the Falcons scoring only a field goal, Chicago had allowed just 30 points in the first three games of the season – the lowest three-game total for the franchise since 1994.
The Bears defense recorded five turnovers against Atlanta, with three interceptions and two fumble recoveries in addition to seven quarterback sacks. Chicago knocked starting quarterback Chris Chandler out of the contest at halftime with a mild concussion and sacked rookie signal caller Michael Vick – the No. 1 pick in the draft – six times.
Chandler, who entered the contest as the NFL top-rated passer, was taken to Piedmont Hospital for evaluation, where it was determined he had suffered a grade-one concussion. He finished the day with seven completions in 12 attempts for 75 yards and three interceptions.
"I knew there'd be days like this," Vick told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in the locker room after the game. "Something like this had to happen. It's kind of like a reality check." Vick would finish the game with 12 completions in 18 attempts for 186 yards.
"We put up some stuff this week we thought would confuse him," said Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher in the Atlanta paper. "It was designed to confuse Chandler, but on Vick it worked even better."
In the game, Urlacher, voted first-team All-NFL by the Associated Press in 2001, would record an interception, a sack, a fumble recovery for a touchdown, a forced fumble and five solo tackles.
For his efforts against the Falcons, the second-year linebacker would be honored as NFL Defensive Player of the Week.
"[Vick is] not ready to be the No. 1 guy, and it's unfortunate," Falcons head coach Dan Reeves said in the Tribune. "You have to be ready when the starter goes down. There's no question he has a long way to go. He messed up on some of the calls, but he'll be better next time. You just can't do some of the things that you are capable of without your veteran quarterback."
Chicago starting quarterback Jim Miller completed 17 of 26 passes for 196 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions.
|"We put up some stuff this week we thought would confuse him. It was designed to confuse Chandler, but on Vick it worked even better."|
– Brian Urlacher
"The last couple of years when we've had teams on the ropes, we just haven't been able to put teams away," said Miller in the Tribune. "That's another step that this team is starting to make. We weren't playing our best, but we knew coming into the game that we were going to score 30 or 40 points, and we knew we were going to do it with authority. Guys made up their minds, and we did it."
Breaking the Ice
The Bears broke a scoreless tie in the second quarter with a 34-yard scoring strike on a flanker pass from Marty Booker to Marcus Robinson. Miller began the scoring play with a pass behind the line of scrimmage to Booker, who in turn lofted the touchdown toss to Robinson, who would lead all receivers in the game with nine catches for 114 yards. After Paul Edinger's extra point with 1:54 remaining in the first half, Chicago claimed a 7-0 lead that would not be surrendered.
Victimized on the play was Falcons veteran cornerback Ray Buchanan.
"I got a little greedy on that one play, and they tricked me," Buchannan told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "They just tried to find a way to break the ice, and they broke the ice first. And I think that's what the game was all about."
Miller told the Tribune that the deceptive play had been worked on diligently at Halas Hall.
"We practiced that play throughout the week," he said, "and Marty has a lot of skills. He can throw a ball 80 yards. He's a very talented guy." Bears head coach Dick Jauron praised Booker's toss in the Chicago paper.
"The pass that Marty threw was a great ball," he said. "Marcus wasn't open by that much, but Marty put it right on him."
The two teams proceeded to initiate a sequence in which both clubs traded interceptions on three consecutive offensive plays from scrimmage, with the final theft coming courtesy of Bears safety Tony Parrish, who returned the ball to the Falcons' 26. Chicago converted the turnover into a 42-yard Edinger field goal as time expired in the half, and the Bears went into the locker room with a 10-0 lead.
Late in the third period, a 30-yard Vick completion to rookie tight end Alge Crumpler ended in another turnover. Bears linebacker Warrick Holdman, who, along with Parrish, led Chicago defenders with six solo tackles and one assist during the afternoon, forced a fumble that led to a long-distance aerial touchdown.
Robinson celebrates with Bears fans in Atlanta.
Erik S. Lesser/Getty Imagers
Atlanta's defense, which heading into the contest ranked last in the NFL against the pass, allowed an average of 279.7 yards per game through the air.
Two plays following the turnover, Miller, on the opening play of the final period, connected on a 63-yard touchdown pass to Booker, which helped give the Bears a 17-0 advantage following Edinger's extra point. Booker would set a new Bears club mark for receptions in 2001 with 100, breaking the old mark of 93 catches set by Johnny Morris in 1964.
"We were stopping that team through the third quarter," Buchanan told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "Then, I guess, after you see some of those turnovers, it sort of hurt, and … it seemed like our defense sort of gave up. They found our breaking point."
Trailing by three scores, the Falcons succeeded in driving to the Chicago 3. But Bears defensive end Phillip Daniels sacked Vick and forced a fumble that was recovered by Urlacher, who returned the ball 90 yards for a score. It was then the second-longest fumble recovery for a touchdown in Bears team history. Following the extra point, Chicago held a commanding 24-0 lead with 8:56 to play.
"I should have been trying to get the ball away," Vick was quoted as saying of the costly turnover in the Tribune. "Our guys were covered. I tried to make something happen. Sometimes that hurts when you try to make too much happen. That's one play I definitely learned from. You can't do that. The guys on this level are much faster, and sometimes you can't get away."
Atlanta managed a 44-yard field goal by rookie kicker Jay Feely following a 10-play, 54-yard drive with 4:46 remaining to nix the shutout. But Chicago closed out the scoring following a recovery of a Falcons' onside kick, as rookie running back Anthony Thomas scored on a 32-yard touchdown run to help make the final tally 31-3. Thomas led Chicago in rushing for the game with 57 yards on 11 attempts.
"[The coaches] want him to get more touches, and that was a good confidence builder for him to go in there and score," Miller said in the Tribune when speaking of Thomas, who would lead Chicago in rushing in 2001 with 1,183 yards on 278 attempts. "He always seems to find the right hole."
"You've got to believe," Bears defensive tackle Keith Traylor declared in the Chicago newspaper. "I don't think the belief part of it was there before. This was a big one. I think we're going to open up some eyes in this world. Now they're going to start believing."
David Linden is a freelance sports writer from Milwaukee who has written features on the Green Bay Packers, Milwaukee Brewers, and major national auto racing for various regional, national, and international sports publications. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.