By Steve Keating
CHICAGO (Reuters) - The Chicago Bears, led by a ferocious defense and two touchdown passes from Jay Cutler, mauled the Atlanta Falcons 30-12 on Sunday for an explosive start to the National Football League season.
Linebacker Brian Urlacher, the cornerstone of the Bears defense, intercepted a pass to set up Chicago's first touchdown then grabbed a fumble and ran it in as the high-flying Falcons offence was limited to a pair of field goals.
"The offense just sort of took care of business putting points on the board," Bears coach Lovie Smith told reporters. "Defensively, the interception really got us going. We talk a lot around here about taking the ball away."
The Falcons' lone touchdown came in the fourth quarter when defensive lineman Kroy Biermann returned a tipped Cutler pass 50 yards for the score.
It was one of the few miscues for Cutler, who completed 22-of-32 passes for 312 yards, including touchdown passes to Matt Forte and Matt Spaeth.
Bears fans had lots to celebrate but the party was muted as the opener was played under a somber cloud given a pre-game ceremony for the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks.
Sports leagues and players who returned to the nation's playing fields a decade ago to help Americans forget were front-and-center again 10 years later but this time to help a country remember.
While Chicago was spared in the attacks, a soldout Soldier Field joined other opening day crowds in a moment of silence.
As chants of "USA USA" rose from the stadium a giant American flag was unfurled covering the entire field and players from both teams join 150 first responders to help wave the Stars and Stripes.
"I got chills, I can't explain it," said Urlacher. "I was watching (September 11 remembrance programs) this morning before I came to the stadium. It's crazy it's been 10 years. Today was a big day."
Punishing defences have long been a staple of Chicago football going back to the Monsters of the Midway, and Sunday's performance was reminiscent of those days as Urlacher led an assault on Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan and pounded any Falcon play who touched the ball.
The two teams traded early field goals before Cutler hooked up with Forte on a 56-yard touchdown just before the end of the first quarter.
Robbie Gould chipped in 23- and 26-yard field goals to account for all the second quarter scoring to give the Bears a 16-3 advantage going into the intermission.
The Falcons opened the second half with a 25-yard field goal but the Bears hit back with a touchdown, Cutler capping the drive with a one yard strike to a wide open Spaeth.
Urlacher then scooped up a Ryan fumble and rumbled 11 yards for the touchdown and suddenly the Bears were in control 30-6.
"We just talked about making plays," said Bears coach Lovie Smith. "We felt like we had a good football and we knew we were playing an excellent team.
"It's one win, we're excited by it but we have a long way to go."
(Editing by Frank Pingue)