Lance Briggs plucked the ball out of the air and started rumbling down the field. As the Chicago linebacker approached the end zone, he fully extended his right arm over his head with the ball in his hand.
Briggs and the rest of those 30-something Bears defenders showed Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys how much they can still play.
Charles Tillman, another of the five defensive starters in their 30s, also returned an interception for a touchdown in the Bears’ 34-18 victory Monday night.
”A lot of our older guys are playing really well right now because we understand everything so much more,” said Briggs, whose 74-yard run was his first interception return for a TD since 2005. ”Whether we’ve lost a step or some people believe we’ve lost a step, we make up for it in knowledge.”
Though Romo was only sacked once, on the game’s first series, he was pressured relentlessly and threw five interceptions. That matched his career high, first done five years ago in his first full season as a starter.
”Just outstanding play by our defense,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said. ”It seemed like everybody had a say in it. How about Lance Briggs? You guys didn’t know he could run that fast.”
Briggs’ interception came in a wild two-play exchange of turnovers midway through the third quarter.
Bears quarterback Jay Cutler was nearly flawless after halftime, when he completed 11 of 12 passes for 219 yards and two touchdowns. That included a 34-yard score to Devin Hester to start the half and a 31-yarder to Brandon Marshall with 6 1/2 minutes left.
Cutler was 18 of 24 overall for 275 yards. Marshall had seven catches for 138 yards.
Major Wright, who returned an interception for a touchdown in Chicago’s last game, had two of the five interceptions. D.J. Moore has nine career interceptions, three of them against Romo after getting another one Monday night.
”We have a pretty good feel for what their front is going to do, what their pressures were, what their coverages were,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. ”They’re just very good at it. It’s not very exotic.”
Chicago’s first fumble of the season came when Cutler was sacked by DeMarcus Ware and Victor Butler recovered at the Bears 27.
On the very next play, Romo was trying to escape pressure when he was hit from behind by Henry Melton. The ball popped forward into the air and Briggs grabbed it and scored to put the Bears (3-1) ahead 24-7.
”I haven’t run that long in a long time, that far,” Briggs said.
Once again, the Cowboys (2-2) are a .500 team. They are also one of the lowest-scoring teams in the NFL with only 65 points going into their bye week, and then play four of their next five games on the road.
”This has to be a wakeup call for us. I don’t say that nonchalantly. It has to be,” Cowboys tight end Jason Witten said. ”You can’t bounce back and forth like this and try to compete come December-time. You can’t do it. We have been in that situation before. You cannot do it. And we know that, and we’ll get better.”
Since the start of the 1997 season, Dallas is 122-122 in regular-season games. They have won only one playoff game in that span after three Super Bowl titles in a four-year span in the first half of the 1990s.
Romo finished 31 of 43 for 307 yards and a touchdown. When the Cowboys got the ball back in the final 3 minutes, Kyle Orton got his first action since the veteran quarterback signed a free agent deal during the offseason to be Romo’s backup.
Orton threw a 5-yard TD pass to Witten with 34 seconds left, capping a 10-play, 89-yard drive.
Witten, the seven-time Pro Bowl tight end who uncharacteristically had several drops the first three games after missing most of the preseason with a lacerated spleen, had 13 catches for 112 yards.
The regular referees wrapped up the first weekend of games since returning to work. It was a week after that disputed Monday night ending that gave the Seattle Seahawks a victory over the Green Bay Packers.
Referee Walt Anderson had to go under the hood to review three plays in the Bears-Cowboys game, but none that will cause the kind of uproar from a week earlier.
Chicago opened the second half with a 73-yard drive capped by Cutler’s 34-yard TD pass to Hester, who raced passed rookie cornerback Morris Claiborne and had to make a lunging catch at the goal line.
Despite a screen shot frozen on the huge video board over the field that raised the question of whether the ball might have hit the ground as Hester rolled over, Anderson confirmed the on-field ruling of touchdown after reviewing the play.
Later in the third quarter, when Alshon Jeffery was going down after a catch, Claiborne stripped the ball and started running the other way. It was originally ruled a fumble, but the replay showed the receiver still controlled the ball when his elbow hit the ground.
In the fourth quarter, Dallas contended that the ball had been tipped before a pass interference call in the end zone. That was confirmed by replay, bringing up fourth down for Robbie Gould’s second field goal.
The interception by Tillman in the second quarter, on a ball thrown right into his hands by Romo when intended receiver Dez Bryant was still running down the field, came on the third play a 43-yard field goal by Gould.
”Tony saw it one way,” Garrett said. ”Dez saw it another way.”
Bryant had eight catches for 105 yards.
Dallas responded to that quick 10-point surge by going 80 yards on nine plays, capped by Romo’s 10-yard TD pass to Miles Austin with 14 seconds left in the half.
Pro Bowl running back Matt Forte returned to the Bears lineup after missing the last game with a sprained right ankle and being limited in practice all week. He had 13 carries for 52 yards.
NOTES: Chicago is 8-2 in Monday night games under Smith. … Cowboys punter Chris Jones was out with a sprained left knee after being hit during the win over Tampa Bay last week. Veteran Brian Moorman, signed after being released by Buffalo, punted three times, two of them downed at his 6. … The roof and huge glass doors were both open at Cowboys Stadium for the first time since a Monday night game against the New York Giants two years ago. Dallas also lost that game.