Chicago Bears outside linebacker Lance Briggs (55) intercepts the football as Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (9) is sacked by Bears defensive tackle Henry Melton (69) during the second half of an NFL football game Monday, Oct. 1, 2012, in Arlington, Texas. The Bears won 34-18. (AP Photo/The Waco Tribune-Herald, Jose Yau)
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Updated: November 4, 2012 6:25AM
Linebacker Lance Briggs knows how to find the end zone. He once rushed for 320 yards and six touchdowns in a high school game and had a 48-yard touchdown run against UCLA as a freshman at Arizona.
But at 31 and in his 10th season, Briggs’ wheels on a 74-yard interception return opened some eyes in the Bears’ 34-18 victory over the Dallas Cowboys on Monday night at Cowboys Stadium.
It didn’t hurt that most of the Cowboys fastest players had to reverse field and fullback Lawrence Vickers (4.89 40-meter dash) was the closest pursuer. But 74 yards is a long way to the end zone. The play might end up being ruled a fumble recovery, but it doesn’t matter. It was the Bears’ longest return by a defensive player since Brian Urlacher returned an interception 85 yards for a touchdown in 2007 against the Packers.
“He made those first two guys miss,’’ said Urlacher, who has scored on returns of 90, 85, 27 and 12 yards in his 13-year career. ‘‘I’ve seen him before when he gets the ball in his hands. He was a running back in high school, so he knows what to do with it. It was a great play. I didn’t see how he got the football. I just saw him running with it.”
It was Briggs’ fifth NFL touchdown, but first since a 21-yard fumble return against the Colts in 2008. He also scored on interception returns for 45 yards (2003 at Green Bay), 38 yards (2004 at Detroit) and 10 yards (2005 at Green Bay).
Just like old times
With Briggs’ and cornerback Charles Tillman’s interception-return touchdowns, the Bears have three defensive touchdowns this season and nine in their last 16 games. Tillman has three of them and D.J. Moore has two.
It’s the biggest binge since Lovie Smith’s first three seasons with the Bears (2004-06), when the defense scored 13 touchdowns — six in 2004, four in 2005 and three in 2006.
Top of the charts
Through four games, the Bears lead the NFL with 14 takeaways (the Falcons are second with 12).
The Bear’s defense also is tied with the Houston Texans in net points allowed (33, 8.3 per game). The Bears’ defense has allowed 54 points — including eight consolation points by the Cowboys with 34 seconds left Monday night — and have scored 21.
The next best in net points allowed are the 49ers (51), Cardinals (54) and Seahawks (58).
A ratings bonanza
The Bears-Cowboys game attracted 16.6 million viewers — the third largest audience for any program on cable television in 2012, according to ESPN. The top two cable events are the BCS title game between Alabama and LSU (24.2 million viewers) and the Rose Bowl between Wisconsin and Oregon (17.5 million viewers).
In Chicago, the Bears-Cowboys game earned a 17.3 rating on ESPN and a 15.2 rating on Ch. 9, for a combined rating of 32.5 in the market, according to ESPN. The game drew a 26.1 rating in the Dallas-Fort Worth market.
Home away from home
Bears players and Smith were impressed with the large contingent of Bears fans at Cowboys Stadium. By the fourth quarter they nearly took over the place.
‘‘Glad you brought that up — I should have,’’ Smith said in his post-game press conference. ‘‘We travel well. There’s nothing like hearing the ‘Let’s Go Bears’ chant early and throughout the game. I thought our fans were outstanding. The Chicago Bear colors were all around. I’m glad we are able to give our loyal fans that type of effort.’’