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If the Bears hadn't tantalized their fans with a 4-0 start last season before self-destructing, Sunday's 31-13 dismantling of the despised Green Bay Packers might give rise to unbridled enthusiasm.
Encouragement? Optimism? Hopefulness?
Those were the tempered words and emotions of coach Mike Ditka and his players after six sacks, two interceptions, three fumble recoveries and relentless front-line pressure left the Bears the only undefeated team in the NFC Central at 2-0.
"They are playing hard, they're trying," Ditka said. "I wouldn't sell the house yet, but we're trying to keep it in line.
"It is only the second game, so I wouldn't get too excited about it. We have been in this position before. This week will be interesting for us. We come home (against the Minnesota Vikings) and we would like to play a good game in front of our people."
The Bears and Packers (1-1) will renew acquaintances Oct. 7 in Soldier Field. And Don Majkowski, a late-inning reliever Sunday, may very well be the starter for the rematch.
After losing twice to the Packers last season, the Bears should be permitted at least one day to savor this convincing triumph.
"I think it is always a plus when you can go into somebody else's back yard and you have crowd noise and the fans are against you and you can still play as well as we did-especially after getting down 7-0," Ditka said.
Playing in front of a Lambeau Field record crowd of 58,938, the Packers took advantage of an interception against Jim Harbaugh to grab an early 7-0 lead.
On the Bears' first play from scrimmage, Harbaugh launched a pass intended for tight end Jim Thornton that wound up in the hands of Packers cornerback Jerry Holmes. He returned the ball to the Green Bay 37-yard line.
"I was just determined to come back and try to play better," said Harbaugh, who wound up completing 11 of 14 passes for 161 yards and two touchdowns. "Coach Ditka just said, 'That play is over and there is nothing you can do about it. You just have to kind of bounce back.' He was very encouraging."
Packers quarterback Anthony Dilweg (14 of 28 for 149 yards and 1 interception) passed 14 yards to Sterling Sharpe and running back Keith Woodside gained 26 yards on the drive, including the 10-yard scoring burst up the middle.
The Bears pulled within 7-3 in the second quarter when Kevin Butler drilled a 41-yard field goal into the teeth of a 15-m.p.h. wind.
A 9-yard pass to Wendell Davis and a 22-yard toss to Thornton set up the three-pointer.
Butler later lined up for a 42-yard field-goal attempt that caromed off the right upright and fell back no good into the end zone. Defender Ron Pitts ran into Butler after the kick, however, and the Bears had a first down at the 19.
Harbaugh passed 12 yards to Davis before rookie fullback James Rouse, subbing for Brad Muster, who left the game with blurred vision, rushed twice for three yards apiece. Neal Anderson then bulled over from a yard out and Butler converted for a 10-7 lead.
The Bears' offensive strategy, for the most part, became increasingly conservative after they took the lead.
"After I threw the interception, they (the coaches) might have been a little nervous to throw the ball," Harbaugh said. "It was just a bad decision and a bad throw on my part. That might have affected their play-calling early."
The Bears got the ball right back when Dilweg fumbled after being sacked by William Perry. Trace Armstrong recovered at the Packers' 15 with 3:54 left until halftime.
"In a lot of ways, I feel like the only thing that is the same when I go out on the field is my number," said Armstrong, comparing his rookie season in 1989 to this year. He finished with two sacks and two forced fumbles.
Six plays later, Harbaugh rolled right and scored from 2 yards out to put the Bears ahead 17-7.
"We got 17 points without really having to move the ball very much," Ditka said. "That was all due to the defense."
The Packers drove 46 yards in eight plays in the closing seconds of the half before settling for a 37-yard field goal by Chris Jacke to pull Green Bay within 17-10.
After struggling with poor field position for most of the third quarter, the Bears took advantage of another Dilweg fumble to score a touchdown. Armstrong sacked Dilweg and Jim Morrissey recovered at the Bears' 29 with 7:46 to go in the third quarter.
Anderson broke away for a 29-yard run to the Packer 42.
"We didn't give up on the run, even though it wasn't that successful early in the ballgame," said Anderson, who gained 71 yards on 21 carries. "The linemen made some good blocks because (Green Bay) stayed in eight-man fronts."
Two plays later, Harbaugh passed 40 yards to Ron Morris on a fly pattern to put the Bears on top 24-10.
The pass pattern for the TD was the same one that Harbaugh had thrown for an interception earlier.
"The play-action fooled the corner (Holmes) so bad that he thought it was a run," Morris said. "The safety stayed on the hash (mark) and there I was on the sideline. Jim just laid the ball out for me."
"Historically, Holmes cheats on that tight end route," Harbaugh said. "I should have realized that the first time I was throwing it."
Jacke hit a 37-yard field goal to close a 51-yard drive at the end of the third quarter. Dilweg ran 22 yards on a key third-down play to give the Packers a first down at the 7. But an intentional-grounding call as Dilweg was being clobbered by Ron Rivera set Green Bay back to its 20 and they had to settle for the field goal.
A 16-yard Harbaugh-to-Anderson fourth-quarter TD pass completed the scoring for the Bears.
"I thought Neal has just got a tremendous amount of heart," said Ditka. "He went in there and pounded. He got beat on a little bit, but he hung in there."