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Rex Grossman sprinted off the field wearing a smile that said "I told you so.''
Danieal Manning squeezed the game ball that he intercepted at game's end so tightly it nearly deflated. And Adewale Ogunleye stood in a crowd of reporters yelling at the top of his lungs, his voice booming with the excitement of a guy who had just won a championship.
In a sense, Sunday's 17-6 victory over the Raiders was like a playoff game for the Bears.
"The biggest thing is not to lose confidence in yourself,'' said Ogunleye, who forced a fumble to help seal the game. "There's always going to be doubters in life. But we've got to always rally together and fight together. And good things will happen.''
Things looked bleak for the Bears until Grossman--who entered the game in the first half after Brian Griese suffered a shoulder injury--found a streaking Bernard Berrian for a 59-yard touchdown play with 3 minutes, 11 seconds left in regulation, allowing the Bears to go up 10-6.
Grossman had fumbled the first snap he had taken since Week 3, but he rebounded by sailing a perfectly placed ball over Berrian's left shoulder. Berrian sped past inexperienced Raiders cornerback Chris Carr and waltzed into the end zone for just his second touchdown of the season.
"At that time of the game, we needed anything to happen,'' Berrian said. "If it was a long run or some type of play, to get our emotions high and get the ball in the end zone.''
Nobody was riding higher afterward than Grossman, whose exhilaration was evident with every chest bump and hand slap. But Sunday wasn't about Grossman silencing his critics. To him, it was more about getting the Bears back in the conversation.
"I just feel so happy for this team to get a must-win,'' he said.
The Bears, now 4-5, will be hard-pressed to catch NFC North leader Green Bay (8-1) in the division race, but they're only one game out of a playoff spot in the mediocre NFC, where eight teams are within one game of .500.
"We're down to the last straw,'' Berrian said. "We really can't have any losses if we want to get to the playoffs.''
Before they can start talking about going undefeated, the Bears still have some issues to address. Sunday was supposed to be game that played into their hands, with the battle of field position a key element. The Raiders boldly kicked to Devin Hester and did a great job shutting down Mr. Electricity. Hester returned six punts for 14 yards and two kicks for 34 yards.
Cedric Benson had just 76 yards on a season-high 29 carries against one of the league's worst rushing defenses.
Even when the Bears had good field position, they squandered it. At least three penalties proved costly, including a holding call on Brendon Ayanbadejo that negated Hester's 64-yard punt return.
Thankfully for the Bears, the Raiders were simply bad on offense, with quarterback Josh McCown doing little after starting the game with a deceptive 24-yard sprint. He rarely threw down the field and got sacked four times, three by Ogunleye. Running back Justin Fargas had 81 yards, but those were quiet yards. And the Bears finally created some turnovers.
"I thought we had corrected some things and it was good to see it," coach Lovie Smith said of his defense. "After we let the quarterback have that long run, from there the guys settled down, played hard and did the things we expect the defense to do.''
It was still a 3-3 game heading into the fourth quarter when the Raiders' strong-legged kicker, Sebastian Janikowski, boomed a 52-yard field goal to put his team up 6-3 with under five minutes remaining. Then the Bears responded with the game-winning drive, which took all of three plays and consumed 70 yards. Grossman found Cedric Benson for an 11-yard pickup then fired to Berrian on first down for the game-winner. Benson scored on a 3-yard run in final minutes after Ogunleye forced McCown to fumble.
Grossman's touchdown may have saved the season and revived his career. He finished completing 7 of 14 passes for 142 yards and that touchdown with a quarterback rating of 109.8, although Grossman was sacked twice.
He made one throw that likely made all of Chicago cringe, and that fumbled snap drew laughs from the Raiders defense. But Grossman made some smart decisions, throwing the ball out of bounds on several occasions and protecting the ball on those sacks.
"He's never moped around our building,'' center Olin Kreutz said of Grossman being benched after the Dallas game. "He's always come to work prepared and got ready for games. With all the criticism he's taking about being demoted, he could have easily said "Screw it, screw the team.'' But he didn't.
I hope it showed everybody outside what the teams has known about for a long time, that he's a professional and he's a team guy.''