TELANDER: Bears’ defense rattles Romo into throwing five interceptions
BY RICK TELANDER email@example.com
Tony Romo, Henry Melton
ARLINGTON, Texas — Bears defense, stand up!
People may have been fascinated, even tittering, about Jay Cutler pulling that musical chairs I-don’t-want-to-talk-to-you routine on offensive coordinator Mike Tice in the second quarter of this 34-18 Bears rout of the favored Cowboys. As a media member, it was fun for me, personally, to see the Bears’ self-contained quarterback pull the same stuff on a coach as he does on us lowly scribes.
But how about the Bears’ defense?
How about five of them?
‘‘When you get five takeaways,’’ coach Lovie Smith said, ‘‘you’re headed in the right direction.’’
How about two returned for touchdowns. How about one picked off by cornerback Charles Tillman (for a TD), one by linebacker Lance Briggs (TD), one by nickel back D.J. Moore and two by safety Major Wright.
The Bears’ defense scored more points (14) than the Cowboys’ first-team offense. It scored only six points fewer than the Bears’ offense. It made Dallas’ admittedly erratic attack look so bad that starting quarterback Tony Romo was yanked at the end for former Bears quarterback and confirmed journeyman Kyle Orton.
On ‘‘Monday Night Football.’’ When the Bears allegedly are terrible. And the Cowboys show up, polish their stars and win.
On this night, the Bears’ ‘‘D’’ was the epitome of what Smith’s beloved cover-2 can, and should, be.
Perfect example: Leading 27-10 in the fourth quarter, the Bears were playing what appeared to be a very soft prevent defense, with those two safeties seemingly so deep and vulnerable that anything underneath would work. Romo completed several short passes and was getting greedy. How could he not? This was his comeback attack.
His deep pass across the middle to wide receiver Miles Austin was intercepted by Moore, and that sucked the wind out of Dallas as effectively as a knife hole in a pickup tire.
The Cowboys have 43 wins on ‘‘Monday Night Football,’’ more than anybody, if that matters. They came in with that many. They left with that many.
And it was the Bears’ defense that put them to shame. Here in this massive arena that is part sports building, part Las Vegas donkey show, the Cowboys are expected to put on a performance that owner Jerry Jones and his facelift can be proud of.
But the Bears’ defenders were everywhere, as opportunistic as sharks. Romo has an efficient shoulder-shrug quick release on his passes, but that didn’t help him when his offensive line couldn’t keep out Bears rushers Henry Melton and Julius Peppers. He started getting trigger-happy, then was filled with pure fling-it-out-there-and-hope desperation.
The interception that Tillman picked off in the left flat and returned 25 yards for a score happened in part because Romo felt the sudden blitz coming from his left by the cheated-up safety Chris Conte. The receiver went straight upfield, Romo threw short and out, and Tillman — who bobbled the ball for an instant — trotted into the end zone untouched.
Such is what an attacking defense, a well-disguised defense, a defense loaded with quick, studious veterans can do.
The cover-2 has been much maligned in Chicago. Why? Well, why not. When it doesn’t work, it’s pretty easy to criticize. But the fact is, almost any defense run well and varied with blitzes and roll-ups and sneaky looks and fakes can succeed.
If Smith wants players going for fumbles and interceptions more than clean, wrap-’em-up tackles, so be it. What it takes to make that work is 11-man cohesion, buying in. And the right players for the positions.
Wright, now in his third year, is a perfect example. He was injured often and made some egregious mistakes early on in his NFL career. Now he’s a hitter and an opportunist who sees it all happening in front of him.
It’s nice that Cutler ended up with 275 passing yards and two touchdown passes. But I might have bet on the Bears’ defense winning this game without the offense ever leaving the locker room.
Crazy things happen in Texas.