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Bears win shootout on Sunday
Mike Brown has been to the playoffs with three different Bears teams and to a Super Bowl with one of them. Two of those three teams had better records than the 2008 Bears after seven games. The 2005 edition, which moved Brown to his famous "We suck" declaration after its 1-3 start, was 4-3, like this one after seven games.
But Brown, a nine-year veteran, says there is no comparison between this Bears team and the previous eight he played for.
"This is the best team we've had in the years I've been here, as far as offense, special teams and defense," he declared in the wake of Sunday's record-setting 48-41 win over the Minnesota Vikings. "We're a solid team. Once our defensive side of the ball contributes to us getting wins, we're going to be a very tough team to beat."
For the moment, going into a much-needed week off, they are unquestionably a very tough team to figure. How good are the Bears?
Their special teams scored 20 points without the benefit of a Devin Hester return of any consequence. Their offense put up the second-highest yardage total of the season against the Vikings' No. 7-ranked defense, and quarterback Kyle Orton directed an attack that put the ball in the end zone four times, more often than any team has against Minnesota this season.
But the defense allowed 41 points, most in a victory in franchise history. Minnesota amassed 439 yards, second most by an opponent this season, and punctured the Bears for 121 rushing yards and two touchdowns by super-back Adrian Peterson, the first back to rush for 100 yards on the Bears this season.
The defense was saved by a secondary unknown to many outside its own locker room. Interceptions by safety Kevin Payne and reserve cornerbacks Corey Graham, Trumaine McBride and Zackary Bowman effectively took Peterson, ex-Bears receivers Bernard Berrian and Bobby Wade and the rest of the Minnesota offense off the field.
Still, "the defense played horrible," defensive end Alex Brown insisted. "Our offense is rolling now. If we can fix the defense, we can be a great team."
The Bears are tied with Green Bay for first place in the NFC North, both at 4-3 with 2-0 division marks. They kept pace with the Packers by scoring the most points they had managed since a 48-14 win over Tampa Bay on Dec. 7, 1986. The total of 89 tied a team record set in a 51-38 loss at Baltimore in October 1958.
"It was a critical game at a critical point in the season heading into the bye," Orton said.
The Bears won on a day when they were indeed not playing their best, which may be the hallmark of a good team. They were pushed up and down the lakefront, yet did enough pushing of their own that they never trailed after Peterson scored on the game's first possession.
The teams were tied at 14-14, 17-17 and 24-24 in the first half before Robbie Gould's 48-yard field goal put the Bears up by three just seconds before halftime. The Bears stretched out to a lead of 17 at 48-31, then held on as the Vikings closed to 48-41 on Gus Frerotte's TD pass to Berrian with three minutes remaining.
The Bears controlled the ball for nearly two minutes, then punted. Defensive tackle Tommie Harris then sacked Frerotte, and Bowman intercepted a Frerotte pass.
Orton was 21 of 32 for 283 yards and had touchdown passes to tight end Greg Olsen and wide receiver Marty Booker. Olsen's six catches made him the fourth different Bear to lead the team in receptions in the last four weeks.
"It was a shootout," wide receiver Rashied Davis said. "I thought I was back in the Arena League."
It was a good day for fans of the eccentric and bizarre.
The Bears' special teams scored twice in the first half on kicking gaffes. Punter Chris Kluwe juggled a first-quarter snap and had his kick blocked by rookie Craig Steltz. Kluwe, undeterred, was still kicking and booted the ball while it was loose on the ground. The illegal kick went straight to Garrett Wolfe, who carried it 17 yards for his first NFL score and a 14-7 lead.
Midway through the second quarter, Bowman recovered a punt in the end zone after it bounced off Vikings return man Charles Gordon inside the Minnesota 10-yard line. That score put the Bears up 24-17.
With the Bears clinging to a 27-24 halftime lead, Davis trailed a 35-yard completion from Orton to Desmond Clark, and when Clark had the ball stripped at the Minnesota 1, Davis picked it up and scored.
Booker dropped two passes in the end zone in the first half. He then effectively broke the game open with a 51-yard touchdown late in the third quarter, taking a short Orton pass and curling through four Minnesota tacklers untouched for a 41-31 lead.
Minnesota was unable to mount a drive for a tying TD in the final minute after Harris' sack and the Bowman interception. It was precisely the ending that didn't happen a week ago against the Falcons.
"We needed it," Harris said. "We didn't want [Atlanta] to happen again, so we just did it."