Bears defense eats Dolphins like units of old

by | Special to CBSSports.com
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MIAMI GARDENS -- Before and throughout the game, highlights of Miami's classic 38-24 victory over Chicago in 1985 -- the Bears' only loss in that season -- were shown on the Jumbotron at Sun Life Stadium.

They were the only Dolphins highlights in a night when the Bears defense put together a reel of them in their 16-0 victory, recording its first shutout since 2006 in improving to 7-3.

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It had two in 2006, winning at Green Bay 26-0 on Sept. 10 and 10-0 at the New York Jets on Nov. 19.

"We were playing as hard for the shutout as we would have been to stop a game-winning drive," said linebacker Brian Urlacher, whose five tackles gave him 1,488 for his career, best in team history.

"Shutouts are too hard to come by in the NFL. We weren't going to let it get away. We kept challenging on every play."

The Chicago defense gave up only 39 yards rushing, reducing the Dolphins to a one-dimensional offense, and just 187 total yards.

"The shutout is what you are always striving to get," said defensive end Julius Peppers, who had three of his team's six sacks for 14 yards.

On the first play of the fourth quarter, Urlacher blitzed straight up the gut, went unblocked and sacked Miami quarterback Tyler Thigpen for an 8-yard loss.

With 3:59 left, Thigpen threw to Davone Bess in hopes of converting a fourth and 6 from the Miami 49. The ball hit Bess' hands, but strong safety Danieal Manning nearly cut him in two as he jarred the ball loose.

"I would have preferred the pick," Manning said, "but Bess made a great jump for the ball. I had no choice but to hit him. It was the goose egg that we were after. We didn't want to give up anything."

And they didn't despite the Dolphins (5-5, 1-4 at home) being severely undermanned because of injuries to quarterbacks Chad Pennington (shoulder) and Chad Henne (sprained knee), left tackle Jake Long (shoulder) and center Joe Berger (knee), all before the game.

Berger's replacement, Cory Procter (knee), played for only 6:01, and wide receiver Brandon Marshall (hamstring) was done with 1:25 left in the half.

Thigpen, in his first start since 2008, was completely overmatched against a defense that consistently pressured him. The Dolphins couldn't run to get him any relief.

"We couldn't get out of our own way," Thigpen said. "We had to be able to move the ball offensively and put points on the board. There are no excuses for what we displayed out there.

"Offensively, we feel embarrassed for what we put on the field. I put the blame on me. I felt like we'd get things going, and then, maybe I'd make a mistake or something."

It led to the Dolphins being shut out for the first time since a 3-0 loss at Pittsburgh on Nov. 16, 2007. It was the first shutout at home since a 21-0 loss to the New York Jets on Nov. 11, 2001.

With a great defense playing behind him, quarterback Jay Cutler has some room to grow in Mike Martz's offense.

CBSSports.com Grades
Chicago Bears
Chicago Bears
A
The Bears dominated in time of possession (38 minutes to 22 minutes), were excellent in third-down conversions (10 for 18) and generally outclassed the Dolphins. For those who said the Bears havenít beaten anybody, that refrain will continue but Chicago is 7-3 and heading toward the playoffs.
Miami Dolphins
Miami Dolphins
D
The Dolphins were down to their third-team QB, their third-team C, their second-team LG, and WR Brandon Marshall left the game with a hamstring injury. But, no excuses. The Dolphins were awful. They were dominated. Extenuating circumstances prevent this from being called a total failure.
By Chris Perkins
RapidReports Correspondent

"We're the ones trying to catch up," said Cutler, whose interception and two sacks weren't nearly as important as his ability to convert 10 of 18 third downs. "The defense has played like this for 10 straight games."

The Bears came in as the league's fourth best defense (301.9 yards per game), and only got better. They were second in run defense (82.3 yards per game) and only got better. They were second in points allowed (16.2 per game) and obviously got better.

"We are close to being 'The Monsters of the Midway' again," Manning said. "It is a feeling that I started to get last week. We are playing better and challenging every play. We are close to being a great defense."

Against the Dolphins, the Bears allowed only one of 11 third downs to be converted and controlled the ball for 37:51 compared to 22:09 for Miami.

"It was the third and long situations that we converted that allowed us to control the ball," Coach Lovie Smith said. "You want to get your opponent off the field on third down and make them one dimensional.

"You can get respect with seven wins. We will take that record right now. We are a confident team."

The Dolphins, on the other hand, are anything but confident as they had a chance to win two games in five days and didn't get it done.

"We are in this pile with other teams going into the weekend that are 5-4 right now when we could have been 6-4," Miami Coach Tony Sparano said. "It's disappointing. We played a good football team and did a lousy job."

As good as the Bears are playing on defense, Peppers isn't ready to put them in the class with the teams that won the Super Bowl in 1985 and lost in 2006.

"I feel like we're a pretty good defensive unit," Pepper said, "but we are never going to get there. We have to keep improving, and we'll see where it goes."

Wonder if Peppers' thinking will change if this defense takes the Bears to their third Super Bowl?

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