On a second-and-17 play in the third quarter Sunday, Bears rookie defensive tackle Bilal Nichols broke through the Buccaneers offensive line and flattened Tampa Bay running back Ronald Jones for a loss of four yards.
After the big tackle, Jones strutted as linebackers Khalil Mack and Danny Trevathan came up behind him, dancing and howling. After all, the defense had plenty of reasons to celebrate in Sunday's 48-10 blowout of the Buccaneers.
In a game in which the Bears offense exploded for the first time this season, the defense continued its early-season dominance.
The Buccaneers entered the game as the league's best passing offense, tallying more than 1,200 passing yards through three games. On Sunday, the Bears defense limited Tampa Bay to just 251 passing yards and 60 rush yards.
The Bears' defensive pressure started early. After the offense charged down the field to take an early 7-0 lead, the defense wasted no time getting them the ball back. On the Buccaneers' first offensive snap, cornerback Bryce Callahan set the tone, wrapping up Adam Humphries on a short pass for no gain. Mack got into the action next, taking down running back Peyton Barber at the line of scrimmage. On third-and-10, defensive tackle Akiem Hicks hurried quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick into an incompletion. It was one of three three-and-out series for the Buccaneers offense and it didn't get any easier for them throughout the day.
On Tampa Bay's second drive, Hicks beat offensive lineman Caleb Benenoch off the edge on a second-and-long play and took down Fitzpatrick for the team's first sack of the afternoon.
Later in the first half, Mack knocked out two stats with one play. On third-and-11, Mack darted around Buccaneers tackle Demar Dotson and got his right hand on the ball as Fitzpatrick went to throw, recording both a sack and forced fumble for the fourth straight game. The play forced a punt and led to another touchdown for the Bears offense four plays later.
"We're getting better every week," Mack said. "It's not just about me. You see the guys on the back end making plays and that's what you want to see. It's a good feeling, especially going into the bye."
The defense tallied four sacks in total and six tackles-for-loss. Their 18 sacks on the season is easily the best mark in the league.
"Everyone's playing fast, they're playing relentless," Bears coach Matt Nagy said. "They're having fun out there. They're playing aggressive. It's controlled chaos, and I just love it. I love it about those guys. I love the mentality of our coaches. They preach it, they teach it, and then we all just feed off of one another."
For the second week in a row, the Bears snagged three interceptions.
Late in the first half with the Buccaneers in Chicago territory threatening to score, safety Eddie Jackson read Fitzpatrick's throw perfectly, and moved in front of intended receiver Mike Evans for the pick. Jackson also had an interception last week against the Cardinals.
The Buccaneers started the second half the same way they ended the first: with an interception. On a first-and-10 play, Mack got around the offensive line again and knocked Winston's hand as he cranked back for a pass. Instead of finding the hands of a Tampa Bay receiver down field, the duck fell to Trevathan for his seventh career interception.
"That offense that we just faced, they [threw for] 400 yards in a row three straight times," Nagy said. "So what a credit to the defensive players and coaches for being able to come out here and really do an unbelievable job versus that great offense."
With the game long over late in the fourth quarter, linebacker Aaron Lynch got his name in the ‘INT' column, picking off Winston to put an exclamation point on a day in which the Bears dominated in all facets of the game.
Lynch raised his hands high after the interception and was quickly mobbed by teammates, a deserving celebration for a defense that's been worth celebrating all year long.
"We're pushing each other, we're hype on that sideline," Trevathan said. "We're the top defense in the league, in my opinion, so we knew they were going to try to come out here and light us up. ... We had to make a statement this game: Nobody's going to come to Chicago with that stuff."