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LAKE FOREST, Ill. – A high-powered offense. A defense creating havoc.
This was how the Chicago Bears envisioned their season, and the picture came into focus at Atlanta on Sunday.
The Bears stopped a two-game losing streak and picked up the 750th win in franchise history with a 27-13 victory over the Falcons. Jay Cutler had his biggest passing game in six years with 381 yards, and a battered defense had one of its best performances in two seasons under coordinator Mel Tucker.
"We've seen signs in the first six weeks of the season of the type of team we can be and the way we can play the game, but it's a fluid league and it all starts over on Wednesday," coach Marc Trestman said Monday.
The Bears (3-3) will try to keep it up when they host the Miami Dolphins on Sunday. There were at least some encouraging signs against the Falcons.
Cutler had six completions of at least 19 yards and finished with the second-highest passing total of his career. He threw for 447 yards at Cleveland in 2008 when he was with Denver.
Perhaps more importantly, he did not throw an interception. The Bears are 3-0 when he doesn't throw one. He had two in each of their three losses.
It didn't hurt that Cutler was going against a defense that came in ranked 29th, and Brandon Marshall seems to be over the ankle injury he suffered in the opener. His 113 yards receiving were by far a season high. Fellow Pro Bowl receiver Alshon Jeffery came through with five catches for 136 yards, including a 74-yarder, and Matt Forte (80 yards rushing with two touchdowns, 77 yards receiving) had a solid game.
The defense delivered, too.
The Bears held Atlanta to 287 yards after allowing more than 300 in 22 straight games, and they were without four linebackers, including all three starters.
"I thought our linebackers played great," defensive end Jared Allen said. "I'll have to watch the tape. They came in and it was like business as usual."
They were already missing Shea McClellin because of a hand injury when the rotation really thinned out leading up to this game.
Seven-time Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs sat out all week after injuring his ribs at Carolina. One potential replacement at weakside linebacker was Jonathan Bostic, who was shelved with a back injury after being listed as questionable.
Then there was middle linebacker D.J. Williams (neck). He practiced without limitations on Friday before getting downgraded from probable to questionable the next day and ultimately getting held out of the game.
All those injuries forced the Bears to start Khaseem Greene, Darryl Sharpton and Christian Jones. It also led to extra meeting time with linebackers coach Reggie Herring at the team hotel.
"There was a lot of change going on and unknown going on during the week with Lance and with D.J.," Trestman said. "D.J. practiced, so that was a late addition. Phil was involved in helping us move some people around and get some people up. But it was simply just hard work and their preparation."
NOTES: Trestman said he Is "optimistic" about left tackle Jermon Bushrod (ankle/knee) returning against Miami after missing the past two games. Michael Ola has filled in for him. ... Trestman also said S Chris Conte remains a starter even though he keeps getting injured. He left in the third quarter of Sunday's game because of a shoulder injury, the fourth time this season he was unable to finish a game. Shoulder injuries knocked him out of games against San Francisco and the New York Jets, and a concussion forced Conte to exit against Carolina on Oct. 5. Conte also missed the offseason program and the start of training camp while recovering from shoulder surgery, and he left the third preseason game because of a concussion. "He's a starter until the doctors and trainers say that ... or he feels that he's uncomfortable playing and it hasn't been the case, and we'll see where he is in the next couple days and how things proceed during the week," Trestman said.
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