It's well-documented that politicians' hot air, not weather conditions, is why Chicago is called the Windy City.
The nickname lived up to both meaningscorrect or incorrectSunday at litter-strewn Soldier Field, where the goal posts shook more than they were dented.
Playing in winds that gusted up to 47 m.p.h., Nathan Vasher pulled off a play that would cause anyone who hadn't seen it to accuse the storyteller of bluster.
Vasher's mind-boggling 108-yard return of a missed field goal, an NFL record, added to this season's growing mystique and gave the Bears an emotional boost in a 17-9 victory over San Francisco. It was their fifth straight victory.
Given the improbability of the play and a 6-3 first-place record, it might be time for this season to earn a nickname. Or at least that play.
"There's really nothing you can say about it except, 'Watch it,'" safety Mike Brown said. "We're going to see it over and over again. It was the play of the game and a huge momentum shift. It won us the game."
So did 120 rushing yards from Adrian Peterson, another dominant performance by the offensive line and a defensive effort that yielded no touchdowns for the fourth time this season.
The good vibes partly offset the second-quarter loss of Cedric Benson, who left the field on a cart with what the team called a sprained right knee. A magnetic resonance imaging test is scheduled Monday. Ligament damage, and a lengthy absence, would be no surprise.
The Bears surprised the 49ers with Vasher's heroics on the first half's final play.
San Francisco led 3-0, and the Bears already had watched Robbie Gould's 39-yard field-goal attempt get blown straight west almost to Oak Park and a 27-yard attempt get aborted after a wind-blown snap.
As the 49ers lined up to attempt a 52-yard field goal with three seconds left, Vasher dropped off the line and into the end zone just before the snap. He made a difficult catch of Joe Nedney's short attempt, which hung in the wind.
After a moment's hesitation, Vasher exited the end zone, almost fell before regaining his balance, spun to elude tacklers at the 14-yard line and broke for the right side. A wall of blockers awaited him.
"With the field-goal team being out there, there's no defensive backs or wide receivers," Vasher said. "I was out there with the big boys."
That included linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, the latter flattening poor holder Andy Lee with the final block.
"You've got a bunch of offensive linemen out there who never cover kicks," special-teams coordinator Dave Toub said. "That's why you drop a returner back there."
By the time Vasher reached the end zone, the crowd of 57,747 was going berserk, and the defensive back needed oxygen. A sea of orange jerseysthe Bears wore their alternatesswarmed him.
"We practice that play in special teams, and it looks like a waste of time," quarterback Kyle Orton said. "Finally it came through. To come into halftime up 7-3 instead of down 3-0 was huge emotionally."
The 49ers, who gained a Bears opponent season-low 161 yards, pulled within 7-6 on Nedney's 34-yard field goal with 9:38 left in the third quarter.
But the Bears, who Orton said ditched their game plan because of the conditions, began to establish the run. Peterson broke a 34-yard gain. Muhsin Muhammad drew a 23-yard pass-interference penalty against Shawntae Spencer. Peterson capped the five-play, 76-yard drive with a 7-yard scoring run, making it 14-6.
"Everybody in the whole stadium knew we had to run the ball," Muhammad said. "And we still ran the ball."
Concession wrappers blew across the field constantly. A lid to a Gatorade jug blew from the 49ers' sideline to the Bears'.
The wind made passing an adventureSan Francisco's Cody Pickett had one of the game's nine completionsand catching a normal punt elusive. Bobby Wade's third fumbled punt set up the 49ers at the Bears' 2 with 12:55 to play.
But befitting a defensive unit that took over the league lead in points allowed, the Bears stuffed two straight running plays before San Francisco self-destructed with back-to-back penalties. The 49ers settled for Nedney's 29-yard field goal.
The Bears padded the lead when Gould drilled a 37-yard field goal off a short-field drive set up by Chris Thompson. The special-teams standout recovered Rasheed Marshall's fumbled punt at the 49ers' 24.
Even though the Bears lost the turnover battle 4-2, they won the game.
"I'm going to go back to [saying] good football teams find a way to make some plays," coach Lovie Smith said. "You don't know who it's going to be."
Indeed, depth is one reason the Bears are winning close games, road games and, now, windy games.
"On the pass-interference play, the ball looked like it was coming straight to me, and then at the last second it blew 5 yards out of bounds," Muhammad said. "It was totally unpredictable. I guess that's why they call it the Windy City."
Not exactly. But as Vasher left with the ball he ran back farther than any player in NFL history, he summed up this Bears season with anything but hot air: "It says a lot about the character of this team when everything isn't in your favor and you still pull out a win."
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