NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The thousands of Bears fans who flocked to LP Field in Nashville to see their favorite team battle the Tennessee Titans Sunday got a chance to cheer early and very often.
The "Fourth Phase" witnessed what very well may be the most dominant first quarter in franchise history. The Bears set a team-record by scoring 28 points in the opening period as the offense, defense and special teams all produced touchdowns en route to a 51-20 rout.
In the first quarter, the defense generated three takeaways as Brian Urlacher returned an interception 46 yards for a touchdown and Charles Tillman forced two fumbles; and two Northwestern products teamed up as Sherrick McManis blocked a punt that Corey Wootton returned five yards for his first NFL TD.
Also in the opening period, the offense scored on Matt Forte's eight-yard run and Jay Cutler's 13-yard pass to Brandon Marshall after the Bears had taken over at the Titans' 8 following Devin Hester's 44-yard punt return and the 16 after a takeaway by the defense.
Marshall finished with nine receptions for 122 yards and three TDs, Forte rushed for 103 yards on 12 attempts, and Cutler completed 19 of 26 passes for 229 yards and three TDs, no interceptions and a sparkling 138.1 passer rating.
But the ball-hawking defense was the star of the game, generating five takeaways and returning its seventh interception of the season for a touchdown, all in the last six games.
"The defense, it was a frenzy out there really taking the ball away," Smith said. "That's what we are. That's what the guys believe they can do every play, and that's the mindset."
The Bears regained the NFL lead with 28 takeaways.
Tillman led the charge Sunday, forcing a career-high four fumbles, three of which the Bears recovered. The 10-year veteran has now forced 36 career fumbles, the most by a defensive back since he entered the NFL in 2003.
"I've never seen anything like that," Urlacher said. "A d-lineman I can understand [forcing fumbles by] getting sacks, but as a corner to get four like that, it's unbelievable."
In winning their sixth straight for the first time since starting 7-0 in 2006, the Bears (7-1) maintained their game-and-a-half lead atop the NFC North over the Packers (6-3), who beat the Cardinals Sunday. The Vikings (5-4) fell two and a half games back with a loss in Seattle.
After Wootton's TD gave the Bears a 7-0 lead, left tackle J'Marcus Webb was penalized for illegal-hands-to-the-face while pass blocking in the end zone, resulting in a safety that made it 7-2.
The Bears then scored the next 21 points in a 2:07 span. On Forte's eight-yard TD run, he appeared to be stopped at the three, but was shoved into the end zone by the entire offensive line.
The defense then generated takeaways on back-to-back plays. Urlacher intercepted a Matt Hasselbeck pass and rumbled for a touchdown, picking up a nice block by Israel Idonije.
Tillman then stripped Chris Johnson on a five-yard reception and Chris Conte recovered at the Tennessee 16, setting up Cutler's first TD pass to Marshall, widening the margin to 28-2.
It was a great way to start for the Bears, who had been outplayed for three and a half quarters last Sunday by the Carolina Panthers before rallying for an improbable 23-22 win.
"Last week we came out pretty slow," Tillman said. "Coach Smith was very adamant about us going out there and having a fast start. We didn't want to have a repeat of what happened last week."
The Bears led 37-12 after three quarters before Cutler tossed TD passes to Marshall of 39 yards down the right sideline and five yards over the middle to make it 51-12.
The Titans (3-6) scored the game's final points on Johnson's 80-yard TD run against the second-team Bears defense and Hasselbeck hit Kenny Britt for the two-point conversion.