The Bears of late have been in no position to rate their victories.
Savor them, yes. Cherish them, maybe. Count them on one hand, most definitely.
Sunday's 41-31 keepsake over the pass-happy Atlanta Falcons evened the Bears' record at 2-2 in the closest thing imaginable to a must-win situation in September.
The Bears bolted to a 31-7 halftime lead before returning to recent second-half form and holding on for dear NFC Central life in front of 63,528 fans at Soldier Field.
"I'm a realist; I'm not a phony," said Bears coach Mike Ditka. "I understand where the problems are and we're trying to find solutions to the problems. We've got to play a lot better if we expect to win a lot of football games."
The yearlong problems in the secondary reappeared in sporadic, disturbing episodes as Falcons quarterback Chris Miller connected on 30 of 48 passes for 351 yards and four touchdowns.
He was intercepted once by Markus Paul and sacked three times by Steve McMichael, Trace Armstrong and Tim Ryan. But Miller pecked away, hitting Andre Rison 10 times for 177 yards and three TDs.
On the positive side, the Bears produced a season-high 217 yards on the ground behind a stellar performance from the offensive line.
"I think a lot of the credit for this one goes to the coaches because offensively they had a smart game plan," said Bears guard Tom Thayer. "They knew exactly where to attack them. They knew which tendencies to attack."
Neal Anderson rushed for a season-high 74 yards on 15 carries and two touchdowns. He also caught a team-high six passes for 80 yards.
Fullback Brad Muster rushed for a season-best 96 yards on 10 attempts and one TD. He added three catches for 51 yards.
The Bears jumped all over the Falcons on their second possession, scoring on a brilliant 49-yard run by Anderson.
Muster had sprinted 17 yards on first down from the Bears' 34. Anderson took it in from there for his 60th career touchdown, breaking a tie for second place in Bears annals with Rick Casares.
"We thought they were going to attack us more than they did, so we thought we would have to go to the air more," said Anderson. "They played some standard defenses, and we were able to have success on some running plays early. So we stuck with it."
Flashy Deion Sanders returned Chris Gardocki's kickoff 55 yards to the Bears' 35. Sanders ended the day with 111 yards on three kickoff returns.
"We did everything within our power to kick the ball away from him and in the process almost destroyed a lot of the things we wanted to do as far as field position," said Ditka.
The Falcons (1-3) advanced to the 27 before Norm Johnson lined up for a 46-yard field-goal attempt with a 13 m.p.h. wind at his back.
But center Harper LeBel's snap sailed over the head of holder Scott Fulhage. Mark Green wound up tackling Fulhage back on the Atlanta 36 with 8 minutes 58 seconds left in the first quarter.
The Bears drove to the Atlanta 3 before settling for a 20-yard field goal from Kevin Butler.
Paul picked off Miller's pass on Atlanta's next possession. Three plays later, Jim Harbaugh (18 of 24 for 280 yards and two TDs) passed over the middle to Tom Waddle, who slipped a tackler and ran 41 yards for a touchdown- the longest of his career.
"I just caught the ball and ran. I ran for my life," said Waddle, who outran the speedy Sanders.
"It must have been an angle thing because I know I didn't line up and outrun him all day."
The Falcons struck back 19 seconds later when Miller passed 71 yards to Rison. The ball was tipped by cornerback Donnell Woolford, but landed fortuitiously in the hands of Rison, who slowed up and strutted into the end zone.
The Bears went on top 24-7 with an 80-yard scoring drive. Anderson added his second TD on a 14-yard run with 7:35 to go in the half. An 11-yard TD pass to Wendell Davis made it 31-7.
The Falcons pulled within 31-14 on a 6-yard pass from Miller to Rison, and pulled to within 31-21 when Miller passed 23 yards to Tony Jones.
"We gave up too many points, but for the first time this year we had fun," said Paul. "We were talking a little trash and flying to the ball."
The Bears retaliated in impressive fashion, marching 80 yards in seven plays, including Muster's 14-yard TD run with 2:03 to go in the third period. It was the Bears' first score in the second half since the season opener against Detroit.
Johnson connected on a 46-yard field goal at 10:25 of the fourth period to pull Atlanta to within 38-24.
Butler countered with a 21-yard three-pointer with 5:56 left to make it 41-24. The field goal gave Butler 11 points for the day and tied him with Walter Payton for the Bears' all-time career scoring lead with 750 points.
Atlanta pulled to within 10 points with no time showing on the clock. A pass-interference call on Mark Carrier against Sandersyes, he was playing wide receivergave the Falcons the ball at the Bears' 10. Since a game cannot end on a defensive penalty, the Falcons took advantage of the opportunity to score on a 10-yard pass to Rison.
"I don't think this is the kind of football that will win you a whole lot of games," said Ditka. "Our job is to be better than we are right now."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times