By halftime, Walter Payton was being remembered, but the Bears' 35-point loss to the Bengals was being forgotten. Perfect.
"What happened last Sunday?" coach Lovie Smith said with a straight face.
The Bears needed their friends from Cleveland to help them forget, and the Browns obliged in a 30-6 Bears victory.
But the destination was more enjoyable than the climb for the Bears on a perfect day for football at Soldier Field. The lopsided score was due more to the ineptitude of the visitors than it was to the efficiency of the hosts.
"I was running off the field saying that was a good slump buster," middle linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer said. "I don't feel we played awesome football, but we did what we needed to do. We won a game we were supposed to win."
And they won the way they were supposed to win -- at least defensively. The Bears came up with five takeaways, the most they have had since Oct. 19, 2008, against the Vikings. They had only eight takeaways in their previous six games this year.
Of course, the Browns tend to give away the football the way charities give away turkeys at Thanksgiving. They came in with the second-most turnovers in the league.
But that didn't matter to the Bears.
"We had a [takeaway] famine going on for a while," safety Danieal Manning said. "Somebody had to step up."
One somebody was Manning, who went horizontal to intercept a Derek Anderson pass in the first quarter, then stripped and recovered the ball from tight end Steve Heiden in the third quarter.
Another somebody was cornerback Charles Tillman, who recovered a fumble after a Nick Roach strip and returned an interception 21 yards for a fourth-quarter touchdown.
And a third somebody was defensive end Adewale Ogunleye, who recovered his third fumble of the season.
"We had a great week of study and preparation," Manning said, "and we knew how the receivers were lining up, how the quarterback was going to throw the ball and what routes they were going to give us against our defense, so we just played and trusted the scheme."
In addition to Tillman's touchdown, the Bears scored 13 points off takeaways. They held Anderson to a 10.5 passer rating and prevented the Browns from converting on 10 of 11 third downs.
Offensively, the Bears were more uneven. The running game was functional but not dynamic.
Matt Forte rushed for 90 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries. Garrett Wolfe chipped in with 53 yards on five carries. They helped give the Bears an advantage of more than 15 minutes in time of possession.
"The running game, we're committed to it as much as anything, even when you're not getting yards," Smith said. "You have to stay committed to it, which we will be."
The running game was the best way to keep Jay Cutler from being hospitalized. He was sacked four times and hit seven other times.
Browns tackle Shaun Rogers, who is the size of a mid-size SUV, fell on Cutler and drove him to a depth in the turf at which most of us will be only in our caskets. And linebacker Kamerion Wimbley jacked him in the jaw with a headfirst blow that left Cutler swallowing blood for most of the day.
"He showed a lot of toughness," said Devin Hester, who had 81 receiving yards. "He took a lot of shots today and never came out of the game."
Cutler, not surprisingly, was not very effective throwing the ball. He was 17 of 30 for 225 yards with one interception and a 66.7 passer rating.
The Bears really didn't need him to do a lot because they made plays in other phases.
The special teams pitched in as Israel Idonije blocked an extra-point attempt, Hester had a 32-yard punt return and the Bears held stellar Browns return man Joshua Cribbs to a 22.8-yard average on kickoffs and prevented him from returning any punts. Cribbs came in leading the league in combined return yardage.
The Browns served as an ideal steppingstone. They put the Bears on higher ground and helped prepare them for a tough stretch that starts Sunday with the Cardinals and ends in four games with the Vikings.
But if the Bears don't rise to the level of their competition in the next month, they might find themselves remembering some things they thought they forgot.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun