Here are five things we learned from the Chicago Bears' 16-0 win over the Miami Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium on Thursday night.
1. Jay Cutler may look like the frat boy you don't want to like -- you know, the one with the interminable smirk, spoiled girlfriend and all the money? But you know, isn't he That Guy for a reason? Cutler had his best big-stage game of his Bears career Thursday, proving that not only is this team for real, but he's finally becoming the franchise player the Bears hoped he would be. Sure, Cutler has had his ups and downs -- mostly downs for a demanding fan base. He's made mistakes, taken too many sacks, never showed the gutsy, field-general type qualities fans demanded and took numerous tough losses. And then there are the headlines his girlfriend, Kristen Cavallari, has made, asking for free stuff at a Magnificent Mile boutique. But that's all white noise now, given Thursday's performance. The numbers may have been pedestrian (16-of-25 for 156 yards, zero TDs), but Cutler stepped up with big third-down completions and crucial game management. He also complemented his oft-criticized offensive line with smart throwaways and key scrambles.
2. Dare we say 'No Name Defense' in Miami ... and talk about the Bears? Chicago's defense has ranked in the top five all year, while consistently getting off the field on third down, forcing turnovers, picking off the ball, stuffing the run and pressuring the quarterback. And yet, outside of Julius Peppers and Brian Urlacher, how many Bears defenders can most casual fans name? Lance Briggs? OK. Other than that, this has been the epitome of team defense and brilliant scheme. Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli has put together a no-name squad that has bought into the program. Considering Cutler and the running game we saw Thursday, this Bears defense could lead Chicago to something special this year. For the night, Chicago sacked Miami QB Tyler Thigpen six times and limited the Dolphins to just seven first downs and 39 yards rushing.
3. Brandon Marshall is doing all he can to tear apart yet another franchise. In this era of me-first, self-entitled wide receivers making big headlines, most big-mouth wideouts actually are relatively harmless. Chad Ochocinco? Terrell Owens? Even Randy Moss? It's mostly bluster. But Brandon Marshall, who notoriously caused a rift in Denver before being sent packing, clearly is on the brink in Miami, as well. In one of the most important Dolphins games of the last two years, Marshall all but went full-blown Albert Haynesworth, checking out and underachieving from the opening whistle. Marshall did nothing to help his young starting quarterback, dropping a pair of easy catches, getting penalized twice -- including once on an unsportsmanlike penalty after a first-down catch. Marshall ultimately dropped out of the game with a hamstring injury, essentially killing any chances the Dolphins had in this one.
4. How far has the Bears' offensive line come? No unit in football has performed a more abrupt or impressive about-face than Chicago's O-line. Remember the humiliating 10-sack night in Week 4 against the Giants? It's a distant memory now. Part of it has been offensive coordinator Mike Martz adjusting his protection schemes and offensive attack. Part of it has been getting the O-linemen on the same page. But for the most part, the Bears are a better team because the offensive line had their collective pride challenged and responded nicely. Tailback Matt Forte (104 total yards, 1 TD) and the Bears dominated time of possession; and more than anything, Cutler stayed upright because his front five more than held its own against a Dolphins defense that specializes in rushing the passer -- specifically rush-end/linebacker Cameron Wake, who finished with just one sack.
5. That's "Thigpen" -- as in, Pigpen. Dolphins coach Tony Sparano could not have liked what he saw on Thursday -- in addition to the litany of injuries involving key players (Marshall, center Cory Procter). As a result, Miami's playoff chances in the AFC are fading fast. That may sound too dire for a 5-5 team, especially when the schedule lightens up significantly down the stretch. But the Jets and Patriots are hardly coming back to the pack, and the Dolphins only have road games remaining with the East leaders. Then there's the issue of Miami relying on a third-string quarterback to carry the team. Thigpen (214 total yards, zero TDs) has talent and certainly a decent arm, but he was third-team for a reason -- and it showed against the harassing Bears defense. Thigpen gave up on plays far too soon -- rarely hanging tough in the pocket -- and couldn't generate any momentum for his offense.