They are now three games into a season with what was supposed to be a vastly improved and dynamic offense, but the Chicago Bears are beginning to understand that their old, reliable formula is still the best.
Needing a roughing-the-passer penalty to manage their only touchdown drive, the Bears nonetheless never were threatened in beating the St. Louis Rams, 23-6, on Sunday behind a defense that sacked Sam Bradford six times and intercepted two passes -- one of which was returned for a touchdown by safety Major Wright.
The Bears limited the Rams to just 160 yards, including only 15 in the first 28 minutes of the game. St. Louis penetrated the 50-yard line only three times, never getting closer to the Bears' goal line than the 28.
Chicago did not fare much better on offense. The Bears were held to 274 yards against a St. Louis defense that permitted 802 yards in two previous games, as quarterback Jay Cutler's passes frequently were either dropped or off target.
"The idea is to win. It's not a solo tennis match out there," said Cutler, whose passer rating for the season stands at just 58.6 despite the emphasis on juicing the offense and the addition of his former Denver teammate, wide receiver Brandon Marshall.
After the Bears scored 41 against Indianapolis in the season opener, with Cutler passing for 333 yards, the perception around the team was that it had made a complete reversal from the stodgy Chicago offenses of the past. Instead, Cutler has managed only 309 yards total in the last two games.
Nonetheless, Sunday's victory was a walkover -- even though it took two penalties to set up the only first half points for Chicago and victory was not secured until Wright's 45-yard return with 9:06 remaining.
That pass was tipped to Wright by cornerback Tim Jennings, who later intercepted a pass of his own and now has four in three games, enjoying a breakout year in his seventh NFL season.
"Tim made a commitment to improve his game," said Lovie Smith, the Bears' coach. "Last year, he had a lot of opportunities with his hand on balls and didn't make the play."
The Bears' first points followed a 4th-and-15 penalty on the Rams' Jo-Lonn Dunbar, who pushed down Bears punter Adam Podlesh from behind after he kicked the ball. That led to a 54-yard field goal by Robbie Gould, his first of three field goals in the same.
In the second quarter, after Cutler passed incomplete on 3rd-and-8 from the St. Louis 45-yard line, Rams' safety Darian Stewart was penalized for roughing Cutler, making it first down at the 30 instead of a fourth down punting situation. Two Cutler passes to Marshall, for 13 yards and then 12 yards, set up a three-yard touchdown pass from Cutler to, once more, Marshall.
"You're off the field on third down and then you get a helmet-to-helmet (call)," said Jeff Fisher, the Rams coach. "Was it intentional? You know, they call those things. It looked like it was the correct call. I don't know what happened on the punt (penalty). He was out of the way, blocked, what have you. Those are drive killers."
Bradford completed just 18 of 35 passes for the Rams for only 152 yards. Just one of his completions went for more than 15 yards. Defensive end Israel Idonije had two and a half of the six sacks for the Bears, who have made 14 sacks in their three games.
St. Louis never had a possession in which it gained more than 43 yards.
"The big thing for us as an offense is when things aren't going well, we've got to find a way to create energy, to get over that hump," said Bradford.