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Bears had real-deal look in season-opening score

Bears safety Chris Harris (46) helps celebrate linebacker Brian Urlacher's (54) fumble recovery for touchdown third quarter as Chicago Bears

Bears safety Chris Harris (46) helps celebrate linebacker Brian Urlacher's (54) fumble recovery for a touchdown in the third quarter as the Chicago Bears defeated the Atlanta Falcons 30-12 in the season opener September 11, 2011 at Soldier Field. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 26, 2011 12:28AM



Most Bears fans have seen enough opening-weekend fool’s gold to know what it looks like.

There was the 29-13 victory over the Colts in 2008 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis in which Peyton Manning was rusty after missing the preseason because of knee surgery. The Bears finished 9-7 and out of the playoffs.

Then there was the 20-17 victory over the Chiefs at Soldier Field in Dick Jauron’s debut in 1999 when Chiefs coach Gunther Cunningham proved prophetic when he ­dismissed Gary Crowton’s offense as ‘‘razzle-dazzle.’’ The Bears finished 6-10.

And who can forget the 22-6 rout of the defending Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys on “Monday Night Football” at Soldier Field in 1996? ‘‘There’s a new sheriff in town,’’ Alonzo Spellman famously crowed. But others were not as enthusiastic. The Cowboys were without Pro Bowlers Michael Irvin and Jay Novacek, and the Bears needed a safety and two trick plays to pull off the upset. They finished 7-9.

That said, the Bears’ 30-12 victory over the Falcons on Sunday at Soldier Field looks like the real thing. The Bears might not get three takeaways a game, and they’re unlikely to score on defense every game. But it’s not like they did it with mirrors.

They did it with a pretty standard defense that didn’t seem to reveal many tricks — and has room for growth. The rest of the NFL now knows they have to block Henry Melton. The trick is to do that and still keep Julius Peppers out of your backfield.

Not that it can’t be done, but that quandary is a little more problematic than making sure you have somebody better than Allen Barbre to block Adewale Ogunleye. It forces even good opponents to at least tweak their game plan, and gives Lovie Smith and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli room to counter the counter.

That’s the biggest difference ­between this team and previous Bears teams that has Bears fans allowing themselves to celebrate the Bears’ performance rather than denigrate the disappointing Falcons.

The Bears were that impressive on every level Sunday. They won every aspect of the game against a quality opponent, with nary a trick play or lucky bounce.

No doubt the Bears benefited from some breaks. Falcons center Joe Hawley and right guard Garrett Reynolds were making their first NFL starts. Jay Cutler had two tipped passes that might get ­intercepted the next time. There might not be a better time to face Matt Ryan than at home in the ­season opener. Guard Chris Spencer got away with a flinch on third-and-four in the second quarter.

But that is trumped by the fact that the Bears are better this ­season where football teams need to be good the most: the offensive and defensive lines. It’s the best sign that this team might have ­staying power.

‘‘Our D-line was great. That’s something to build on right there,’’ Urlacher said. ‘‘Henry .  .  . Pep .  .  . Nick Reed did a good job for us. I could name them all. But they all did a good job for us.’’

As for the offense, bigger tests lie ahead. But the ease with which the Bears scored from the 1-yard line against the Falcons can’t be ignored — a Cutler pass to wide-open tight end Matt Spaeth, just like the good offenses do. In last year’s opener, the Bears had four tries from the 1 against the Lions and came up empty. This time they made it look easy.

‘‘The thing that’s going to test us is when it’s not easy,’’ wide receiver Roy Williams said. ‘‘When we have three-and-outs a couple of times. That’s going to show who we really are.’’



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