PITTSBURGH – One of the underlying tenets of the 2013 Bears – now the 3-0 Bears after their 40-23 win Sunday over the Pittsburgh Steelers – was that the offense would be good enough to, if needed, bail out the defense, which would be good enough to bail out the offense, and so on. Both were the case Sunday night.
Only the New Orleans Saints, who come to Soldier Field in two weeks, and the Seattle Seahawks remain undefeated in the NFC.
The 3-0 start matches the opening of the 2010 season that ended a touchdown short of the Super Bowl, and the 2006 season when they ended up in the Super Bowl. That year's 7-0 start will take some doing to match but the Bears are doing the things that winning teams do.
For the first time this season Jay Cutler did not throw an interception. The Bears recovered their only fumble. They took the ball away from the Steelers twice on interceptions, one of those for a Major Wright touchdown return, and three times on fumbles, one of those taken out of the air and returned 42 yards by Julius Peppers.
“We kind of got into a protect-the-football mode the way [the defense] was getting takeaways and setting us up,” Cutler said.
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After the offense and defense combined to build a 24-3 lead against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night, both units effectively shut down and appeared to play not to lose, although they disagreed.
“The Steelers are a good team and they just started making plays,” said running back Matt Forte, whose 87 rushing and 24 receiving yards gave him a second straight 100-yard game.
The defense has allowed 21-30-23 points in the three games this season. All wins, but that is more than any three-game span all last season and well above the standard target of 17 points allowed per game.
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The Pittsburgh offense outgained the Bears’ 459-258 with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger throwing for 406 and two touchdowns. Four different Steelers had at least one play 20 yards or longer, with wide receiver Antonio Brown finishing with 196 at the expense of virtually every member of the secondary.
Championship teams typically have quarterbacks who can take over and win games when the issue is in doubt. Cutler has directed two fourth-quarter comebacks this season and Sunday night was more the need of a “closer” when Pittsburgh threatened.
With the game at stake and the defense struggling to fend off Roethlisberger, Brown and the Steelers, it was Cutler directing a 74-yard touchdown drive for what were clinching points on a 17-yard touchdown pass to Earl Bennett. Prior to that he had scrambled 13 yards on a third-and-10 and thrown to Brandon Marshall 41 yards on a third-and-12 to sustain the drive.
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“[Cutler] came through when we needed him,” Peppers said. “That’s something that Coach [Trestman] stresses and preaches. We need him there and he came through with some big throws. He’s been doing it all season and that’s who he’s become.”
Cutler was not spectacular: 159 yards on 30 attempts, one touchdown. But he was 20 for 30, completing 67 percent of his passes, including 8-for-12 passing in the second half.
Trestman praised his team for maintaining its poise in a renowned difficult venue for visitors. The Bears were assessed just four penalties for the third straight game.
“That was number one tonight,” Trestman said. “We wanted to make sure we had no pre-snap penalties in the noise with our young guys. It wasn’t easy to beat a great defensive team to the punch like we we did at times tonight.”