It was one of those obligatory dates circled on the calendar.
Like the unenviable trip to the dentist's office.
If you've gotta go, you've gotta go.
The Bears honored their commitment to the Hoosier Dome Sunday to play the hapless Indianapolis Colts, winners of one game this season and looking for a lackadaisical Super Bowl contender.
The Bears (9-2) responded with a 31-17 victory in front of 60,827 fans with split allegiance. But the Colts (1-10) gave the Bears the same kind of scare you get when the dentist says it's time to deaden your gums.
The Bears retained their two-game lead over Detroit in the NFC Central and moved ahead of New Orleans (9-2) in the ongoing bid to earn a bye in the NFC playoffs. Though their records are the same, the Bears would hold the edge on the Saints because they beat them head-to-head.
"We won, but we were supposed to win. Now we have to go in and play Miami (next Sunday)," said Bears coach Mike Ditka. "It was a good game to come away with a win.
"It made us reach another one of our goals as far as domes are concerned. That's significant to me."
The Bears are 3-0 in domes this season after losing their previous three in 1990 and 1989.
Fullback Brad Muster (101 yards on 15 carries) became the first Bears back to gain 100 yards in a game this season. He also caught six passes for 44 yards as he took over the offensive load for injured running back Neal Anderson (hamstring).
"He's the best player at his position in the NFL," said quarterback Jim Harbaugh.
The Bears fell behind to start the game, as they had in nine of their previous 10 games. Running back Mark Green (53 yards on nine carries) fumbled as he struggled to gain control of a handoff. The Colts' Keith Taylor recovered and returned the ball to the 8.
Two plays later, Jeff George (16 of 33 for 176 yards and two TDs) hit Jesse Hester for a four-yard TD pass over cornerback Lemuel Stinson. Dean Biasucci added the extra point for a 7-0 lead.
"When we came out we were a little flat," Ditka said. "We kind of got some plays that didn't work and we couldn't get out of our own way."
The Bears responded with a tying touchdown at the end of an 80-yard march with 2:26 left in the first period. Harbaugh (18 of 32 for 287 yards and two TDs) ran six yards on a quarterback draw that survived the scrutiny of instant replay. Kevin Butler's PAT made the score 7-7.
Butler booted a 21-yard field goal after an 11-play, 47-yard drive to make the score 10-7. But Indianapolis retaliated with a 47-yard field goal by Biasucci to knot the game 10-10 at the half.
The Bears cut the frills in the second half, opening with a 75-yard drive that included 15-yard passes to Dennis Gentry and Wendell Davis.
But the crowning play was a masterful 13-yard TD run after a short pass reception by Muster, who broke four tackles on his way to the end zone. Butler converted and the Bears led 17-10 with 6:34 to go in the third quarter.
"How about that one catch?" Harbaugh said. "I'm getting credit for that touchdown pass, and it was all No. 25. I'm just so happy for him that he's getting back to somewhere near full strength because he's a great football player."
Muster's previous career high for rushing yardage was 99 against Phoenix last season.
"I think you truly saw that this kid is the guy that we don't feature because we happen to have other people to feature, too," Ditka said. "When you can take (Muster) and feature him at that position, he'd be a very unique football player. He's big, and he's a little quicker than people think."
The Bears appeared to put the game away with an 84-yard TD pass from Harbaugh to rookie Anthony Morgan, who caught the ball across the middle to beat Eugene Daniel before outrunning Alan Grant.
"That is another pass where I get credit for an 84-yard bomb," Harbaugh said. "It was just a great play by Anthony. He looked like he was shot out of a cannon going down that field. We needed a big play like that, and I think all of my receivers are playing well."
Morgan, the team's fastest player, has caught two TD passes in as many weeks.
"Maybe he's going to go in and score a touchdown a week, now that he's started. I hope that's true," Ditka said.
"That's really the same play Tom Waddle always runs. I thought we'd do it on the weak side with the idea that if he did hit the crack (in the zone), he was gone. He hit the crack, the guy missed the tackle and he was gone. He can run."
But the Colts refused to lie down, moving 80 yards on the running of Ken Clark (11 carries for 67 yards) and the passing of George.
Finally, George passed nine yards to Billy Brooks in the end zone to pull the Colts to within 24-17.
The Bears added a final TD on a nine-yard run by Muster late in the fourth quarter. The Colts had stopped the Bears on downs with 4:15 left in the game, but they were guilty of having 12 men on the field while the Bears' Maury Buford punted. The key penalty allowed the Bears to retain possession and move in for the clinching score.
The Bears' defense performed inconsistently. While Richard Dent recorded his 100th career sack and teammates William Perry, Steve McMichael and John Roper added sacks, the fact is the Colts rushed for more than 100 yards (111) for the first time this season. And they were without star tailback Eric Dickerson, who is suspended.
The Bears racked up a season-high 448 total yards, 27 first downs, and their third-down efficiency was 58 percent (7 of 12).
"We've been looking for the offense to really start generating, both on the ground and in the air," Harbaugh said. "When that starts happening, we have a chance to start running the table all the way out to the Super Bowl."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times