Bears-Dolphins Preview

BY foxsports • November 20, 2010

The Chicago Bears appear to be catching Miami at the right time with the Dolphins expecting to start third-string quarterback Tyler Thigpen and only having a few days to get him ready.

Miami, however, has proven it can still win regardless of who lines up under center, or in the wildcat.

The Bears look to frustrate the inexperienced quarterback and move into sole possession of first place in the NFC North on Thursday night when they visit the Dolphins, who received a surprisingly solid performance from Thigpen in their Week 10 victory.

Miami's top two quarterbacks were injured in Sunday's 29-17 win over Tennessee. Hoping to give a spark to an offense that entered last weekend ranked last in the AFC with 17.9 points per game, Dolphins coach Tony Sparano gave the nod at quarterback to Chad Pennington, who hadn't played since a shoulder injury ended his 2009 season in Week 3.

Pennington's return lasted two plays before he left with a season-ending right shoulder injury. Chad Henne, Miami's starter for the first eight games, then took over before leaving in the third quarter with a left knee injury.

The short week of preparation made it less likely Henne would be able to recover enough to start for the Dolphins (5-4). He was listed as doubtful Wednesday and might be available as an emergency quarterback.

Thigpen played well against the Titans despite getting little work in practice and having attempted six passes this season prior to Sunday.

After Henne's injury, the Dolphins first went with the wildcat and ran five straight plays out of that formation to move the ball 41 yards and set up a field goal. Miami then turned to Thigpen, and he went 4 for 6 for 64 yards, including a 9-yard touchdown pass to Anthony Fasano, on an 85-yard drive that sealed the victory.

The Dolphins, who scored a season high in points, are two games back of New England and the Jets in the AFC East.

"It's huge getting this win," Sparano said. "This is November. If you don't win in November, you've got no chance."

The Bears (6-3) have won their first two November games after going 1-3 in October and are tied atop the division with Green Bay.

Chicago's formidable defense has been instrumental to the team's success and will try to force Thigpen into making mistakes. The Bears, second in scoring defense at 16.2 points, fourth in total defense at 311.6 yards and first in turnovers with 24, intercepted Brett Favre three times in Sunday's 27-13 win over Minnesota.

The Dolphins could turn more to Ronnie Brown, Ricky Williams and the ground game, but that also poses problems. Chicago is second in rush defense at 82.3 yards and limited All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson to a season-low 51 yards on 17 carries Sunday.

"We're right where we want to be," defensive end Israel Idonije said. "Momentum's building, we just have to keep this thing going."

Chicago's offense and special teams also appear to be moving in the right direction.

The Bears gained 360 yards against the Vikings - their most since netting 463 against Detroit in Week 1 - and Jay Cutler was sacked once for the second straight game. Chicago had surrendered 23 sacks in its four October games.

Devin Hester also provided a big lift Sunday, returning two punts for 47 yards and two kickoffs for 100 yards. Hester, the league leader with a 16.7 yard average on punt returns, was returning kicks for the first time this season.

"Devin has it going right now," coach Lovie Smith said. "Guys are doing a great job blocking for him. He's feeling it, of course."

The Bears, who already have two solid options in kick returners in Danieal Manning and Johnny Knox, are fourth in the league with an average of 26.8 yards per return. The return team could be poised to break one with Miami ranking 30th in the NFL in opponent kickoff return average at 26.6 yards.

This will be the first meeting between these teams since the Dolphins won 31-13 at Soldier Field on Nov. 5, 2006, handing Chicago its first defeat after a 7-0 start. The Bears went on to the Super Bowl that season and lost to Indianapolis in Miami.