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Durkin: Bears Defense Bends But Doesn't Break

By Dan Durkin-

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (CBS) -- Lovie Smith is now coaching in Tampa Bay, but the Bears are winning games in the same vein they did under Smith -- generating turnovers and bending but not breaking. On Monday night, the Bears defense had two interceptions and gave up plenty of yards in between the 20s, only to stiffen where it mattered most.

Inside the red zone.

For the third time in as many weeks, the game came down to the wire. And for the second straight week, the defense again rose to the challenge and preserved a 27-19 victory over the Jets on Monday night, taking the Bears to 2-1 on the season and into a first-place tie with the Lions in the NFC North.

Six times the Jets made it inside the Bears' 20-yard line five times, but only once were they able to break the goal line. On the other five possessions, they settled for three field goals, an interception and had a turnover on downs to end the game. In a game that was decided by one score, those are game-changing moments.

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Jets quarterback Geno Smith's wild inaccuracy and decision making compounded problems. Before Jets fans had a chance to settle into their seats, Ryan Mundy intercepted an errant throw by Smith and took it to the house for a 7-0 Bears lead.

"We preach turnovers here," Mundy said. "That's a focal point of our defense, that's the cornerstone of our defense. I saw it was a screen play, so I started to make my way over to the running back, but, surprisingly he threw it right to me."

Smith's tough night didn't end there. Late in the third quarter, trailing 24-13, the Jets drove the ball all the way to the Bears' 18-yard line. On a drive in which a field goal would make it a one-possession game, Smith lofted a contested pass to the back of the end zone, where rookie cornerback Kyle Fuller picked off his third pass in two weeks.

Not only are plays like those a confidence-builder for a defense that is trying to create an identity, they are a boost for the offense.

"It's huge for us," said quarterback Jay Cutler, who threw for 225 yards and two scores. "It takes some pressure off us, knowing we've just got to move the ball. If we have to punt it, we're going to be OK. The defense is going to go out there, and they're going to hold them. That last drive, we knew we had to get some points for them. We were struggling in that fourth quarter, and we were putting them in a tough spot, so I'm glad we were at least able to get a field goal out of it."

Mundy, who suffered a stinger during the game, said the defense would much rather get off the field before those crucial red zone opportunities arise. New York outgained Chicago in total yards 414-257 on Monday.

"It doesn't have to be that hard," Mundy said. "We call it a 'white knuckle situation' where it gets down to the nitty gritty. You definitely don't want to go through that situation time in and time out where you get known as a bend-but-don't-break defense."

Dan Durkin covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @djdurkin.

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