ATLANTA – After second half meltdowns turned early leads into frustrating losses the last two weeks, the Bears seemed to be headed down the same ugly path Sunday in Atlanta.
Leading the Falcons 13-3 at halftime, the Bears gave up 10 quick points at the outset of the third quarter, and suddenly the game was tied 13-13. But this time they refused to let it slip away.
Dominating on both sides of the ball over the final quarter and a half, the Bears scored the game's final 14 points en route to an impressive 27-13 win at the Georgia Dome.
The victory enabled the Bears (3-3) to snap a two-game losing streak and came one week after they had blown a 21-7 lead in a disappointing 31-24 loss to the Panthers in Carolina.
"I'm really proud of our football team," said coach Marc Trestman. "I'm exceptionally proud of our coaches, who came back off a very difficult loss last week. They went to work and put together an outstanding game plan.
"Our players came in Wednesday with amnesia. They put the past behind them and really went to work at preparing both in the classroom and on the field. We worked hard at it all week and today all three phases came into play. Playing well in all three phases really helped our football team."
The game's turning point came midway through the third quarter after the Falcons had tied the score 13-13 on Matt Bryant's booming 54-yard field goal.
Jay Cutler launched a 74-yard pass to Alshon Jeffery to the Atlanta 6. On the next play, Kyle Long rumbled for a 6-yard touchdown up the middle. Robbie Gould's extra point attempt was blocked, but the Bears had grabbed a 19-13 lead they would not relinquish.
"[The Falcons] came out in the second half with guns blazing," said defensive end Jared Allen. "That huge bomb to Alshon took the momentum back."
After forcing a three-and-out, the Bears took a 27-13 lead early in the fourth quarter on Forte's 9-yard TD dash up the middle, followed by Cutler's two-point conversion pass to Martellus Bennett. The touchdown capped a 15-play, 87-yard drive that burned 8:28 off the clock.
Forte's second rushing touchdown of the game—and the season—came on third-and-goal from the 9, surprising a Falcons defense that was expecting a pass.
"We had to come out with points," Trestman said. "We were probably going to get a coverage that was going to take any pass away, so we called a run with Jay having the option that if they did decide to blitz or do something exotic that we could get to a pass. But they played a shell. It was certainly a very important play in this game because it got us [a touchdown] on third-and-long."
After increasing their lead to 27-13,, the Bears defense stepped up, not allowing the Falcons (2-4) to cross the 50-yard line on their final three possessions.
Playing his first game at nickel back, Demontre Hurst generated the game's only takeaway by intercepting a Matt Ryan pass. The defensive line harassed the Falcons quarterback in the fourth quarter, with Willie Young registering two sacks and Allen recording his first of the season.
"We just kept playing ball," said Young, who leads the NFL with seven sacks. "We've dealt with adversity. We know how to respond to it as a team as you could see today."
Offensively, the Bears compiled 478 yards and did not commit a turnover. Cutler passed for 381 yards—his most in six seasons with the Bears—with 1 TD and a 109.6 passer rating. Jeffery (5 catches for 136 yards) and Brandon Marshall (6-113) both topped 100 yards, while Forte rushed for 80 yards on 17 carries and caught a game-high 10 passes for 77 yards.
"As far as an offense, I thought we played our best game in terms of playing a complete game," Trestman said.
Defensively, the Bears delivered their best performance in two seasons under Trestman—while playing without their top four linebackers. With Lance Briggs (ribs), D.J. Williams (neck), Jonathan Bostic (back) and Shea McClellin (hand) all inactive due to injuries, Sunday's starters Khaseem Greene, Christian Jones and Darryl Sharpton combined for 17 tackles.
"That's just a credit to personnel upstairs, the coaches and everybody who's involved in getting guys in here that they trust and believe can get the job done," Young said. "We knew that we were going to have to depend on those guys."