CHICAGO — If there was any doubt the Chicago Bears were serious about contending again in the NFC, they took a big step toward erasing it.
Brian Urlacher had an interception and returned a fumble for a touchdown, Jay Cutler threw for 312 yards and two scores and the Bears pounded Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons 30-12 on Sunday.
In a matchup between reigning division champions, it was no contest. This one clearly belonged to Chicago.
Urlacher picked off a Ryan pass to set up an early 56-yard touchdown catch by Matt Forte, and in the third quarter the linebacker picked up a fumble by Ryan and scored from 12 yards to make it 30-6.
The fumble t came on one of two sacks by Julius Peppers. Henry Melton also had two sacks and the Bears totaled five for the day.
Cutler completed 22 of 32 passes and was intercepted once in his first game at Soldier Field since the Bear's loss to Green Bay in the NFC championship. He left that game with a knee injury and was roundly criticized.
He was sacked four times Sunday but had a 107.8 quarterback rating as the reigning NFC North champions passed a big test.
The schedule doesn't get easier with games against the past two Super Bowl champions coming up — at New Orleans next week and then Green Bay at home — but Chicago certainly looked good in this one.
Forte, seeking a contract extension, turned a short screen into a long TD in the first quarter and caught five passes in all for 90 yards. He also carried 16 times for 68 yards.
Devin Hester had three catches for 60 yards. He turned a swing pass into a 53-yard gain and got stopped just short of the goal line, setting up a 1-yard TD catch by Matt Spaeth that put the Bears ahead 23-6 midway through the third quarter. Urlacher put away the game with his fumble return.
Roy Williams caught four passes for 55 yards in his Bears debut before leaving with a groin injury in the fourth quarter.
Ryan completed 31 of 47 passes for 319 yards for Atlanta.
Michael Turner ran for 100 yards, including a 53-yarder, but the reigning NFC South champions never established any kind of rhythm. It was certainly not the sort of performance they had in mind, coming off a 13-win season that ended with a blowout loss to the Packers in the playoffs.
On the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks, there were large 9/11 ribbons at the 25 yard lines. The coin used for the pregame toss had the same ribbon on one side with a Bears "C" on the other.
There was a video narrated by Robert DeNiro, a live simulcast of the trumpeter performing "Taps" in Shanksville, Pa., and a moment of silence. A loud "USA! USA!" chant broke out as a flag stretching from goal line to goal line was unfurled.