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Bears put the squeeze on Vikings
Their mission, which the Bears have chosen to accept, is to go 8-0 in the Central Division this season.
They are more than halfway there (5-0) after Monday night's 34-17 dismantling of the Minnesota Vikings.
"That is the goal we have set for ourselves. We feel it is very important to control our division," said Bears quarterback Jim Harbaugh, who completed 18 of 27 passes for 180 yards and a touchdown.
Winning for only the second time indoors on a Monday night, the Bears broke open a close game with a pair of touchdowns in the fourth period. Neal Anderson (91 yards on 20 carries) reversed his field and burst for a 24-yard TD at the end of an 81-yard drive to make the score 27-17.
Then cornerback Lemuel Stinson picked off a Rich Gannon pass and returned it 34 yards for a 34-17 advantage.
The Bears (8-2) have opened a comfortable two-game lead over the second- place Detroit Lions (6-4), while the Vikings (5-6), perhaps not these particular Vikings, prepare for next season because a wild-card playoff berth is all but a dream.
The Metrodome, which sounded like a rock concert at the game's start, was transformed into a chamber of horrors for the 59,001 booing Viking fans poised to make Bears coach Mike Ditka eat his words of last week.
Ditka hates to lose. Consequently, he hates any team that stands in his path.
Last week, he hated the Vikings. This week, he will hate the Indianapolis Colts.
Such is the rhetoric of coaches obsessed with winning. Now Ditka is concerned about the health of his troops.
"I don't know if we will have enough guys to field a team next Sunday, we have so many guys nicked and bruised," Ditka said. "We will give it our best shot."
The Bears' 34 points were the most they have tallied all season. Their previous high was 21 against Tampa Bay.
The Bears harnessed their dislike for the Vikings in the first half, forging a 17-10 lead at intermission.
Anderson's great running exploits were complemented by fullback Brad Muster's 56 yards on 11 carries (a 5.1-yard average).
"We tried to do some things that we thought we might be able to get away with from the films we had seen," Ditka said of a running game that netted 191 yards.
"Some of it worked and some of it didn't. You are not going to make a living running on those guys. I mean, the touchdown Neal ran was just a great individual effort. They had the play stopped, the way we tried to run it. You can't even coach that stuff."
Tom Waddle (five catches for 35 yards), Wendell Davis (three for 31), Dennis Gentry (three for 33) and Anthony Morgan (two for 18, including a TD) keyed the most prolific game for Bear receivers.
The Bears converted 7 of 13 third-down situations (54 percent) and 1 of 1 fourth-down plays.
"I think (receivers coach) Vic (Rapp) and (offensive coordinator) Greg (Landry) and the whole offensive staff did a good job of trying to straighten out our third-down package," Ditka said.
The Vikings got the upper hand on the Bears on their first possession, marching 80 yards in 15 plays to take a 7-0 lead.
The Bears appeared to hold the Vikings on the drive when Fuad Reveiz missed a 52-yard field-goal attempt, his kick bouncing off the left upright. But the Bears' Shaun Gayle was offsides on the attempt and the Vikings were given new life at the Bears' 30. Following two short rushes by Herschel Walker, Gannon (19 of 30 for 181 yards, one TD) connected with Cris Carter on a 21-yard pass play to the 6.
From there, Darrin Nelson swept the right side, eluding two Bear tacklers into the end zone. Reveiz's extra point made it 7-0 with 8:06 left in the opening period.
The Bears retaliated with an 80-yard scoring drive of their own to tie the game 7-7 early in the second quarter. Anderson carried the ball eight times on the drive, including a 6-yard scoring run. Kevin Butler's kick knotted the game 7-7.
Starting right guard Mark Bortz had to leave the game with a hernia in the first quarter and Jerry Fontenot took his place. Veteran John Wojciechowski started at left tackle and he played a "super game," said Ditka.
The Bears nearly lost the ball when Mark Green fumbled Harry Newsome's punt. But teammate John Mangum pounced on the fumble.
The Bears went on to march 68 yards for a go-ahead touchdown, capped by Morgan's first career TD reception from 7 yards out. Butler's extra point was his 247th, breaking George Blanda's Bear career record.
Butler later suffered a hip injury similar to the one he endured last season. He kicked off left-footed in the fourth quarter because of the pain and he missed a 35-yard field goal attempt with his right foot late in the game.
"He's really hurting," said Ditka.
Minnesota pulled to within 14-10 with 43 seconds left in the half on a 20-yard field goal by Reveiz.
The Bears were able to advance the ball 44 yards to the Vikings' 33 before Butler delivered a 50-yard field goal at the gun to send the Bears into the locker room with a 17-10 lead.
On their opening possession of the second half, the Bears went 56 yards on 11 plays before Butler delivered a 41-yard field goal for a 20-10 advantage.
Green fumbled another punt with 5:02 left in the third period and the Vikings recovered at the Bears' 16. Following an intentional grounding penalty on Gannon that pushed the ball back to the 29, Gannon hooked up with Cris Carter on a TD pass, making it 20-17.