On the NFL
10:30 PM EST, December 23, 2012
GLENDALE, Ariz. — After losing their way at some point on their 16-game journey, the Bears might have found themselves Sunday in the desert.
They dismissed the Cardinals with a victory that looked the way a 2012 Lovie Smith victory is supposed to look.
Pass rush? Check.
Strong running game? Check.
A few well-timed downfield shots? Check.
Smiling Brian Urlacher? Check.
It has been a while since we've seen these Bears, but we sure did recognize them.
"We have won a lot of games that way," Smith said.
They had been in a long dry spell for takeaways. After coming up with 29 in their first eight games, the Bears had eight takeaways in their last six games before Sunday.
But against the Cardinals, the turnovers were coming like it was September.
There was Zack Bowman's fumble recovery in the end zone. Charles Tillman's pick-six. And Kelvin Hayden's late exclamation point of an interception.
It felt like September too, with the roof pulled back, a gentle breeze, abundant sunshine and renewed hope.
But in the spirit of this season, the Bears received a gift from someone dressed in red and white to get them started.
Cardinals running back Beanie Wells inexplicably fell and coughed up the ball without being hit on the Arizona 1-yard line. Bowman, who was in the game for Tim Jennings because the Cardinals were in "Tank" personnel, pounced on the ball to give the Bears a 7-0 lead a little more than six minutes into the game.
"I was Johnny on the spot," said Bowman, who helped make the score possible two plays earlier by downing Adam Podlesh's 42-yard punt on the Arizona 4.
Tillman put the game out of reach early in the third quarter by sitting on a pass intended for Andre Roberts. It was a nice read and reaction by the old pro, who brought it back for a touchdown and set a Bears record for interceptions by a cornerback.
It was his 33rd career interception and his third touchdown of the season. Between forced fumbles and interceptions, Tillman has taken the ball away from an opponent 13 times this year.
"Man, that guy is amazing," Jennings said. "He has a knack for the ball. It seems like every time he gets his hands on it, he's scoring with it."
Then there was Hayden, intercepting a pass in a Bears game for the first time since he picked off Rex Grossman as a Colt in Super Bowl XLI.
"That was the focus," defensive end Israel Idonije said. "Take the ball away and score. It's hard to do it consistently, and it was good to get back to it."
The takeaways come easier when the pass rush is as bothersome to the opposing quarterback as it was Sunday. Julius Peppers had a season-high three sacks, and Idonije added another.
The pass rush reversed a trend. The Bears had not had more than three sacks in a game since Week 3, when they had six against the Rams.
"You are not going to have a game like this every week obviously," Peppers said. "Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn't. There are games this year that I've played better than I played today, but I didn't have the numbers."
On the other side of the ball, the Bears ran it more than they threw it. They were able to because they ran it well.
"Great lanes out there," said Matt Forte, who averaged 7.3 yards per carry before leaving with an ankle injury early in the third quarter. "The offensive line did a great job. When there are running lanes like that, you can make moves in the open field and get extra yards."
The Bears might look even more like their old selves next week if Urlacher can return from his hamstring pull. Smith hinted it was a possibility.
But just because the Bears went back to their blueprint does not mean they have vaunted themselves back into the fight for the Lombardi Trophy. They still have a lot to prove before anyone believes they can be a Super Bowl team.
It was the 5-10 Cardinals they beat. And it was one win in the standings, a win that will be abruptly forgotten if either they or their old friends the Packers fail to take care of business in six days.
But for these Bears, a step back in time was a step in the right direction.