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Big plays all around as Bears make statement in season opener

Updated: November 9, 2011 3:48PM

On the eve of the 2011 season at the team’s downtown hotel Saturday night, Bears coach Lovie Smith highlighted why Sunday would be a day to remember.

Not because of the lockout, which threatened this season. And not because of it was the season opener.

This Sunday, Smith said, was “special” for another reason.

“I talked to the team about how this will be a game they remember for the rest of their lives,” he said.

It was the 10-year anniversary of 9/11, and the NFL paid homage to one of our country’s transcendent events.

At Soldier Field, Blackhawks’ national anthem singer Jim Cornelison delivered his trademark rendition, as a field-sized flag was unfurled.

“It gave me chills,” Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher said.

Whether motivated by Smith’s speech, Cornelison’s anthem or something else, the Bears were the more inspired team, as they routed the Atlanta Falcons 30-12.

And in the process, the Bears made a series of statements.

That they were widely projected to not only lose the NFC North title but also not to make the playoffs wasn’t lost on them afterwards.

“There were a lot of questions about our team coming into the season,” Urlacher said. “We are starting 1-0. We just need to keep going.”

Smith would welcome some signs of progress from his offense, which was the third-worst last season in terms of total yardage.

The Bears put up nearly 400 total yards, they converted third downs, they had four different players provide a play of 20 or more yards and they watched quarterback Jay Cutler pick apart the Falcons for 312 yards.

“I was impressed,” Bears defensive end Julius Peppers said of the Bears’ offense. “Jay played great. If they give us 30 points, we’re going to be tough to beat.”

In 2010, the Bears were 27th in the NFL on third downs, and they especially struggled when only one yard was needed. Against the Falcons, the Bears were efficient converting 6 of 12 third downs.

On a third-and-one early in the second quarter, Cutler completed an 11-yard pass to a wide-open Kellen Davis.

Then, on another third-and-one with about a minute remaining in the first half, Cutler rolled right, then tossed the ball across the field to a wide-open Davis. It would have been a walk-in touchdown, but the pass was way over his head.

“Too great of a player to just miss it,” Cutler said of the play. “It’s just a shame.”

But the Bears also converted the long ones, too.

Roy Williams had a tumultuous preseason, sullied by a handful of drops and questions about his fitness. But a wide-open Williams hauled in a 23-yard catch on third-and-six on the Bears opening drive, helping set up a 41-yard field goal by Robbie Gould.

On a third-and-six just after the two-minute warning, Cutler threaded a pass to Williams, who snatched it out of the air with cornerback Dunta Robinson just a step behind him. That gained another 15 yards and helped set up a 26-yard field goal.

“It’s a good start,” said Williams, who caught all four passes intended for him for 55 yards. “I just want to be consistent. It’s not about catching balls, and all that.”

But the Bears’ defense also made a statement, beating up Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. In addition to sacking him five times, the Bears intercepted him once and forced a fumble that was returned by Urlacher for a touchdown.

“I thought they had a good game and really just outplayed us,” Ryan said. “That’s something we’ll need to address and get better at.”

Now, the challenge for the Bears will be to keep that momentum going.

They head to New Orleans, where they’ll face another 2010 playoff team.

“We got a long way to go,” Urlacher said. “We’re decent right now. We can get better. We made mistakes.

“Our game plans are simple. We’re building.”

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