The Bears' Matt Forte and teammates celebrate his fourth-quarter touchdown run. (Jose M. Osorio/Tribune)
By Fred Mitchell and Vaughn McClure
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- The Bears recycled their winning formula -- a combination of a stubborn defense and an efficient offensive attack -- to remain in control throughout a 16-0 victory over the injury-depleted Miami Dolphins on Thursday night at Sun Life Stadium.
With the victory, the Bears (7-3) became the first NFL franchise to win 700 regular-season games. They gained sole possession of first place in the NFC North and put the pressure on Green Bay (6-3) to keep pace with a win Sunday at Minnesota.
Quarterback Jay Cutler led a methodical offense that dominated time of possession (37:51 to 22:09), and Robbie Gould booted field goals of 46, 24 and 50 yards before Matt Forte rushed for a 2-yard touchdown late in the third period.
The Bears defense featured six sacks: three by Julius Peppers and one each by Israel Idonije, Henry Melton and Brian Urlacher, as well as an interception by Charles Tillman. It was the Bears' first shutout since they blanked the New York Jets on Nov. 19, 2006.
"The story tonight of course was the defense," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "Getting a shutout is just tough, no matter where you are, but especially on the road. Another team effort for us. ... We wanted to put the pressure on the second-place team behind us, and now we'll get ready for the next opponent."
Asked whether the nationally televised victory will earn the Bears respect, Smith said, "Seven wins. As far as respect, you get respect when you have seven wins. A lot of people had a chance to see us tonight. People's opinions don't really matter an awful lot. We'll take
the record right now. The team is confident."
The Dolphins had been shut out only once before at home, by the Jets in 2001. The Bears' offense did an efficient job of maintaining control of the ball.
"Our offensive line took over," Cutler said. "In the second half we ran the ball exceptionally well, and the way the defense was playing, we didn't have to do much.
"The defense has been playing like this for 10 straight games, so that's nothing new to us. We're the ones offensively who are trying to catch up with them. If we can get to their level, we're going to be a very good team in December."
Already missing their top two quarterbacks, the Dolphins saw backup center Cory Proctor
go down with a leg injury early in the first period. He was filling in for injured starter Joe Berger. They later lost receiver Brandon Marshall to a hamstring injury.
Forte's two-yard touchdown run boosted the Bears to a 16-0 lead at the 2:01 mark of the third
quarter, capping a 13-play, 60-yard drive that ate up 7 minutes, 26 seconds.
The Bears' defense was dominant all night led by Peppers, who picked up his third sack of the night midway through the fourth quarter. The Dolphins were only 1-for-10 on third downs.
Gould had put the Bears ahead 9-0 with a 50-yard field goal -- his third of the night -- at the 11:53 mark of the third. That Bears' drive covered 38 yards in seven plays.
Gould put the Bears on the board first with a 47-yard field goal at the 3:53 mark of the first quarter. Cutler fumbled after being hit by Cameron Wake on the previous play, but Bears tackle Chris Williams recovered.
About a minute later, Tillman intercepted a Tyler Thigpen pass intended for Marshall. The pass was tipped at the line by Peppers, and Tillman's third pick of the season set the Bears up at the Miami 46.
Cutler picked up a first down by running for 16 yards on third down. But the drive stalled at the Miami 6 before Gould booted a 24-yard field goal and a 6-0 lead early in the second period.
Thigpen hit Marshall on a 14-yard pass play during the Dolphins' next possession. After being tackled along the Bears sideline, Marshall tossed the football toward the face of Cutler. Marshall drew a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for the antic.
Cutler threw his 10th interception of the season when Bennie Sapp picked off an underthrown pass intended for Johnny Knox at the Miami 33 with 1:46 left in the half. With 1:25 to go, Marshall had to be helped off the field with a hamstring injury. His return was questionable.
An apparent interception by Lance Briggs was reversed to an incomplete pass by Thigpen, forcing a punt.
The Bears dominated the stats in the first half, yet clung to a mere 6-0 lead.
The Bears accumulated 154 total yards in the first half, compared to Miami's 93. And the Bears dominated the time of possession: 19 minutes, 11 seconds compared to 10:49 for the Dolphins.
Earlier this week, Urlacher ran out of superlatives to describe the play of Tinoisamoa through the Bears' first nine games.
"He's played his ass off," Urlacher said. "Against the Vikings, he had nine tackles in 29 plays. He plays hard as hell. He doesn't take any plays off. He always sprints to the football. He's physical. He does everything right."
With Tinoisamoa out, Nick Roach started in his place. The two battled for the starting spot during training camp and a healthy Tinoisamoa won the spot. But Roach, who has done most of his work on special teams this season, still has some experience. He made his 25th career start.
It remains unclear exactly when Tinoisomoa's knee became an issue, but Bears general manager Jerry Angelo indicated before Thursday's game that the injury wasn't serious.
Thursday also marked the return of cornerback Zack Bowman. He lost his starting job to Tim Jennings, then was sidelined for three games with a foot sprain.
The rest of the inactives for the Bears were tight end Desmond Clark, running back Kahlil Bell,
offensive lineman Edwin Williams, safety Craig Steltz, defensive ends Corey Wooton and Barry Turner and cornerback Joshua Moore. Caleb Hanie was the third quarterback.