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After barely hanging on during a dismal first half Sunday night, the Bears crushed the Giants with 28 points in less than 25 minutes of the second half for a 38-20 victory over a team that didn't show them much respect before the game.
The result was a decisive road victory against a strong conference foe that had won five straight and had allowed only 16 points total in its previous three home games. If the Bears are still considered overrated at 8-1, they don't much care at this point.
"The NFL is not a 'rated' league like college," Bears quarterback Rex Grossman said. "I'm not sure where we're rated. What does that really mean?"
Disaster came early and often and in much the same form as it had against Miami. The Giants easily sliced through the Bears' defense, exactly as wideout Plaxico Burress had predicted. They started from their 29 with a 17-yard completion from Eli Manning to Burress and runs of 18 and 21 yards by Tiki Barber. The drive reached the Bears' 15 after a 5-yard throw to Barber. But Hunter Hillenmeyer made a leaping deflection of a Manning pass, and the New York quarterback badly overthrew Burress to force a 33-yard field-goal try by Jay Feely that missed wide right.
The Giants then came at Grossman with the same kind of blitz pressure the Dolphins used successfully. With the ball at the Bears' 25, Grossman was hit by Will Demps on a safety blitz, and the ball went into the hands of defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka, who had dropped into coverage. Kiwanuka returned the pick 32 yards before being knocked out of bounds at the 1. Brandon Jacobs scored to give the Giants a 7-0 lead.
The Bears managed a first down on a highlight catch by Muhsin Muhammad, but the New York blitz forced Grossman into hurried throws.
But then the defense created an opportunity. Charles Tillman shadowed Burress perfectly down the sideline, then broke inside and intercepted Manning's pass at the Bears' 44, returning it to the New York 45. A roughing-the-passer penalty gave the Bears 15 yards, but two drops by Rashied Davis, starting for Bernard Berrian, left the Bears with a 49-yard field-goal attempt. Robbie Gould ran his 2006 mark to 23 straight.
But in the closing minute of the quarter, safety Gibril Wilson ripped the ball out of Thomas Jones' hands, and the Giants had the ball well inside Bears territory again.
What went right: Gould's consistency remained a bright spot amid offensive troubles, and the defense refused to buckle.
What went wrong: Grossman and the offense were unable to burn the Giants despite the long list of injuries to the New York defense. They couldn't run the ball well enough to take pressure off Grossman.
Quote: "They came out with a lot of intensity. They hit us in the mouth a little bit." Grossman on woeful first quarter.
Cedric Benson was in for the first snap on three of four drives, but neither he nor Jones was doing much of anything. When the Bears opted for a Jones run on third-and-8 from their 13, the implication seemed to be that the Bears had no confidence in Grossman or the offense to convert anything longer than a dive.
Jones' fumble at the end of the first quarter had turned into New York points when Feely converted from 46 yards. But the offense remained unable to mount a challenge, with consecutive three-and-outs at a time when momentum was theirs for the taking. Chad Morton then broke loose for a 36-yard punt return down the sideline to give the Giants good position at the Bears' 31. A completion to Burress, who was generally being defended well by Tillman, got the Giants a first down. But New York settled for a Feely field goal from 40 yards for a 13-3 lead.
The Bears then gave themselves a chance to turn the game around with one of their more improbable drives in recent weeks. Despite two penalties, the offense moved from the Bears' 26 to the New York 29 in seven plays, picking up first downs on Grossman passes to Jones and Muhammad plus a 26-yard Jones run on third down. On first down inside the final minute, Mark Bradley beat a jam off the line by cornerback Sam Madison, who stumbled slightly and injured his hamstring as Bradley broke free. Grossman lofted the ball perfectly over Madison, and Bradley, playing for the first time after five weeks as an inactive, gathered in his second pass of the season at the 1 and scored. That pulled the Bears within 13-10 in a half that had been completely dominated by the Giants.
What went right: A third-and-22 conversion and the Bears going to a no-huddle offense changed the momentum of the game in the closing minutes of the half.
What went wrong: The Bears were penalized for more yards (35) than they gained rushing (31).
Quote: "Sometimes it helps, when things aren't going well, to go to a no-huddle like that. It catches them in a situation where they're calling basic stuff and aren't real sure what's going on." Grossman on the final minutes of the first half when the game changed.
In a 13-minute span, the Bears took the heart out of the Giants and then saw the Giants recover almost completely in the space of three plays.
The Bears promptly wasted an opportunity at the outset of the second half when, from the New York 23, Grossman found Muhammad open in the middle of the secondary. Muhammad got inside the 5 but had the ball knocked loose by cornerback Corey Webster and recovered by safety Will Demps at the Giants 2.
The Bears nearly collected their first safety of the season and used pass breakups by Ian Scott and Tillman to force a three-and-out. The field position created by the defensive stand led to the Bears starting at the New York 43 after the punt.
After flags on the Giants for roughing the passer and illegal contact, the Bears were inside the red zone. Jones blew through a hole between center Olin Kreutz and guard Ruben Brown for an apparent TD, but a holding call on tight end John Gilmore nullified it. A second Jones run moved the ball to the 10, and Grossman found Muhammad at the 3. This time he held on and ran into the end zone, and the Bears moved ahead 17-13 against a Giants team that seemed suddenly listless and uninspired.
The Bears' domination continued when Alex Brown forced Manning into losing the ball and Adewale Ogunleye recovered at the New York 21. Jones ripped off runs of 20 and 11 yards around a 6-yard completion to Bradley before Grossman threaded a dart to tight end Desmond Clark for a 2-yard score and a 24-13 lead.
But a 15-yard Manning pass to Jeremy Shockey converted a third-and-long, and Barber followed that with a 46-yard run to the Bears' 8. Jacobs then scored virtually untouched to move N.Y. four points down, 24-20.
What went right: Grossman shook off a shaky first half and engineered three drives that got inside the New York 5, though only two reached the end zone. Jones' running and the pounding of the offensive line turned the momentum.
What went wrong: Turnovers remained a concern. The defense let the Giants back into the game with big plays.
Quote: "With all the different stuff they were running, the blitzes and everything, and in somebody else's stadium, sometimes it takes a while for things to slow down. So we kind of leaned on our defense a little while until things slowed down for us, and when it did, things started clicking." Kreutz on the swing in the game.
A game of swings took several more violent ones. The Bears allowed a 9-yard sack of Grossman to open the quarter, then had a questionable horse-collar penalty assessed on Lance Briggs as the Giants moved to the Bears 29. But Brown sacked Manning again, forcing a fumble that went out of bounds for a 14-yard loss. The fourth down subsequently created forced Feely to try a 52-yard field goal. That kick came down short, into the hands of Devin Hester standing deep in the Bears' end zone.
Hester took a step, feigned a stop, and the Giants eased up on their coverage. Hester then exploded out of the end zone and down the right sideline in front of the Bears' bench. A crushing block by Tillman and others in the coverage unit set him free for a 108-yard jaunt that will land him in the Hall of Fame alongside teammate Nathan Vasher, who set the record last year with a 108-yarder against San Francisco.
The Bears were far from done. Chris Harris, who replaced Todd Johnson at strong safety, picked off a Manning pass and set up another possession starting in New York's end, this time at the 46. Grossman's pass to Bradley for 38 yards gave the Bears first-and-goal at the N.Y. 7. Two plays later, Jones powered in from the 2 for a 38-20 lead. The Meadowlands seats began emptying out.
What went right: The Bears showed convincingly that their quarterback can survive a difficult game and win on the road and that they are the best team in the NFC.
What went wrong: Not much. Just a play here and there in a quarter that reflected one of the better turnarounds in a game, beginning to end, of this or any season.
Quote: "Like we've been preaching all year, 212. We turn it up a notch. At 211 degrees, the water's hot, but nothing's happening. At 212 it boils, and with boiling water comes steam, and steam can drive a locomotive. You turn it up one degree and it can go so far." Tillman on the little extra the Bears seek.