Snarling Bears Maul Falcons in Season Opener

CHICAGO (Reuters) – The Chicago Bears, led by a ferocious defense and two touchdown passes from Jay Cutler, mauled the Atlanta Falcons 30-12 on Sunday for an explosive start to the National Football League season.

Linebacker Brian Urlacher, the menacing cornerstone of the Bears defense, intercepted a pass to set up Chicago’s first touchdown then recovered a fumble and ran it in for a score as the high-flying Falcons offence was limited to a pair of field goals for over three quarters.

The Falcons’ lone touchdown came in the fourth quarter when defensive lineman Kroy Biermann returned a tipped Cutler pass 50 yards for the score.

It was one of the few miscues for Cutler, who completed 22-of-32 passes for 312 yards, including touchdown passes to Matt Forte and Matt Spaeth.

(Editing by Frank Pingue)

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N.F.L. Fines 16 Players for Illegal Hits

Biermann and Jones received the biggest fines for helmet-to-helmet contact, by Biermann on Seattle quarterback Charlie Whitehurst and Jones for a hit on quarterback .

Seven players were fined for roughing the passer and three for flagrant fouls on defenseless receivers, two points of emphasis by the league this year.

Baltimore free safety Ed Reed was fined $10,000 for hitting New Orleans quarterback in the face. Chicago linebacker Brian Urlacher lost $10,000 for striking the defenseless Minnesota tight end Visanthe Shiancoe in the neck and head area, Urlacher’s second violation this season.

Another Bears defender, the rookie safety Major Wright, was also fined $10,000 for hitting the rookie quarterback Joe Webb in the head and neck area and for leading with his helmet.

Two defenders, end Robert Mathis and safety Antoine Bethea, were fined $10,000 each. Mathis struck Jaguars quarterback David Garrard in the head and neck area, and Bethea was punished for helmet-to-helmet contact with Jaguars receiver Mike Thomas.

cornerback Devin McCourty was fined $10,000 for unnecessary roughness against the , and five players were fined $7,500 apiece, including tackle Kevin Williams for a late hit and his teammate Antoine Winfield for a hit on the Bears’ Jay Cutler.

Giants linebacker Jonathan Goff was fined $7,500 for unnecessary roughness for hitting quarterback late and out of bounds, and Eagles cornerback Dimitri Patterson was called for a horse-collar tackle.

JONES-DREW MAY SIT Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew missed a third consecutive day of practice, casting doubt on his availability Sunday against Washington. Jones-Drew has dealt with knee problems most of the season, but his right one really became problematic after his sixth consecutive 100-yard game, Dec. 12 against Oakland. He missed two days of practice last week, and Indianapolis held him to 46 yards last Sunday.

STAYING FOR NOW The San Francisco 49ers are staying put until at least 2014 after the team reached a tentative deal with the city on repairs to Candlestick Park. Mayor met with the 49ers’ president, Jed York, this week to finalize the deal, which settles a $60 million claim filed by the 49ers. The suit charged that the city failed to complete required maintenance on the stadium, including flood control work and the replacement of seats. Under the agreement, the team will get rent credit for doing the repairs itself. It also adds flexibility to its lease after the 2014 season, when the 49ers plan to move to a new stadium in Santa Clara.

STAFFORD DONE FOR YEAR The placed quarterback Matthew Stafford on injured reserve with a separated right shoulder. The move ends Stafford’s season with two games remaining. Stafford played in only three games this season and just 10 last year because of injuries. Stafford’s shoulder was separated in this season’s opener at Chicago. He later aggravated the injury. The move leaves Detroit (4-10) with two banged-up quarterbacks in Shaun Hill and Drew Stanton, along with the rookie Zac Robinson.

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Giants Go From Finished to N.F.C. Front-Runners

Tied with the Atlanta Falcons for the best record in the N.F.C., the Giants (5-2) were left for dead in September after two lopsided losses. Now, after their leadership was questioned, they have won four consecutive games, and their defense has left five quarterbacks — Carolina’s Matt Moore, Detroit’s Shaun Hill, Chicago’s Jay Cutler and Todd Collins and the latest, Tony Romo — strewn on the sidelines.

“You just stay positive during a bye week,” Coach said Tuesday in a conference call with reporters. “This is a positive situation for us.”

Meanwhile, the preseason conference favorites have not done much to stake their claim to a conference title.

The high-payroll, low-morale Cowboys (1-5) are unlikely to make the playoffs.

The (4-3), the defending champions, were shocked by the (2-5) at home and will host the (5-1) on Sunday.

The (4-3) have tallied three of their wins by 7 points or les.

Like the injured , the (2-4) are limping through their schedule. They will play the 5-1 on Sunday in Foxborough, Mass.

Asked if the Giants were the best team in the N.F.C., Coughlin said: “Where we are right now is we’re 5-2. We have as many wins as anyone in the N.F.C. We are in position now where we lead our division. No more, no less.”

The lasting image of the Giants’ 41-35 romp Monday was Romo sprawled out in the second quarter. Linebacker Michael Boley planted Romo, and the Cowboys’ season, into the synthetic turf with a ferocious hit that left Romo with a broken left clavicle that will sideline him six to eight weeks.

“You prepare yourself and realize the pressure on the quarterback is extremely important to the way the game is played,” Coughlin said. “Most people in this league have quality, quality backups that are in a position when they come in a game to contribute, but let’s face it, the starting quarterback is the starting quarterback for a reason.”

The Giants’ only room for complaint this season on offense has been their proclivity to turn the ball over. has thrown an -high 11 interceptions, 7 tipping off the hands of receivers. Against the Cowboys, he threw three, two of which were deflected. Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs lost fumbles.

“It is an awareness thing,” Coughlin said. “It is something that nobody harps upon more than we do.”

While the turnovers pockmarked an otherwise sterling performance, there was not much that Coughlin could be displeased over. He said the bye week would give the Giants time to heal their bumps and bruises and to assess themselves relative to the rest of the league.

While the Giants are looking like the class of the conference, Coughlin said that they have not yet played to their potential.

“I think a lot of it has to do with the way in which we continue to prepare and practice and our attitude about these things and the amount of focus we can put into a day’s work,” Coughlin said. “If we maintain a good solid attitude, a humbleness, a recognition of the hard work we have to put in to put ourselves in position to win, then we can go forth and play our best football in front of us.”

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