COMMENTARY | Since the turn of the century, the Chicago Bears have opened the NFL season with three straight wins exactly twice.
In 2006, the Bears emphatically announced their status as a contender by consecutively beating every team in their own division to start the season. That year ended with Chicago losing to Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLI.
The only other time fans could have checked their newspaper to find a "3-0" next to the Bears was in 2010. In Jay Cutler's second season in the Windy City, No. 6 led Chicago to the NFC Championship game, but an unfortunate injury forced Caleb Hanie into the game and the Bears out of the playoffs.
Chicago will go up against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night, and a win for the Bears means another 3-0 start, and the continued escalation of expectations.
The Steel-Curtain is Showing Some Rust: Pittsburgh has beaten the Bears in three of their last four meetings, but these are not your grandpa's Steelers.
Ben Roethlisberger has lost so many pieces on his side of the ball that Pittsburgh's offense has only been able to rank higher than the Jacksonville Jaguars in terms of total yardage this season. And with Pittsburgh scoring 9 ½ points per game, only the Jaguars (5 ½) and the Cleveland Browns (8) have put up less points than the Steelers to start the year.
Strictly speaking for edification purposes, and not to fuel any scofflaw's wagering fix, the Bears are only a 2 ½ point favorite heading into Sunday. The game will be held at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, and there are still plenty of play-makers on the defensive side of the line to make this a game.
Pro Bowlers like Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark, LaMarr Woodley and Brett Keisel are still there to anchor a defense that ranked No. 1 in football in 2012, and who have still started 2013 in the top 10.
If the Bears hope to start with the historically-foreshadowing 3-0 mark, they cannot overlook a veteran team at home who will be playing for their pride as a once elite football team.
The New Jay Cutler: The Bears' much maligned quarterback has started the season by reminding fans why they traded for him in the first place. Chicago is currently 2-0, thanks to two game-winning drives in as many weeks from their gunslinger.
This is a contract year for Cutler, and he has showed early why he may be deserving of a new deal. Cutler has 532 passing yards and five touchdown tosses in his first two games. It is much too early to say Cutler has completely left the bad decisions and costly turnovers behind him, but No. 6 is now on pace to deliver the best season of his NFL career.
His 68.1 completion percentage and 95.4 passer rating would both be career marks for Cutler if he were to keep them going all year. Cutler's season trends would see him throwing for 4,256 yards and 40 touchdowns this year. Head coach Marc Trestman's new offensive scheme was supposed to get the most out of Cutler, but few could have expected these early-season results.
Martellus Bennett Gives the Bears Exactly What They Need: Since Greg Olsen was trade because Mike Martz's "offensive genius" was not to be questioned, the Bears have gotten next-to-nothing from their tight ends. I'm not even sure next-to-nothing is a good enough description. Calling the position a black hole is probably too harsh, but it was definitely black-hole adjacent.
Over the last two seasons, the leading Chicago tight end has averaged a total of 218 yards receiving per season. In just two hours of action in 2013, Bennett already has 125 yards and three touchdowns.
A good tight end can make all the difference for an offense. Seam routes up the middle pulls safeties away from wide receivers, while the continued threat of Bennett in the passing game makes linebackers have to be concerned with coverage and less likely to overplay for Matt Forte in the run game.
Offensive Line Is Finally Blocking Someone: The Bears' former O-line was comprised of players unqualified to keep 20-year-old co-eds from passing through the velvet ropes, let alone stopping hulking 300-pound linemen from getting to their quarterback.
Through the first two games last season, Cutler hit the deck seven times and was eventually sacked 38 times in 2012. This year, the new offensive line has helped make the life of Chicago's equipment manager much easier, thanks to Cutler's jersey being given the trademark grass stain of a sack only once in 2013.
Chicago had to address the pass blocking in the offseason so they signed Jermon Bushrod to protect Cutler's blind side, and then promoted rookie O-linemen Jordan Mills and Kyle Long to be the anchors on the right side.
If the stellar play of the men responsible for keeping Cutler upright continues, Chicago should have no problem notching their third straight win and begin looking very much like a true contender in the NFC.
The more cynical among us could point at the coincidental 3-0 trend and think it just means that Chicago fans are destined to watch their team go deep into the playoff only to have their hearts ultimately broken in the end. But this is a Chicago team that has addressed their weaknesses and is solid in all three phases of the game as they have ever been.
Dalton Russell has covered the Chicago Bears in print and online media since 1998. He lives just outside the shadow of the iconic architecture of Soldier Field.
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