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No fooling: Bears dominate
There was nothing fake about the Bears' 30-10 dismantling of the Green Bay Packers on Sunday at Lambeau Field.
Sure, the well-conceived chicanery of a fake punt led to the Bears' first touchdown and a 10-3 second-quarter lead.
But more substantive offensive and defensive football improved the Bears' record to 4-3 and set up a first-place showdown next Monday night against the Minnesota Vikings (5-2).
"The only thing we can control now is next week," said coach Mike Ditka. "This one is over. We'll enjoy it for six or seven hours and forget it.
"Next week is a Monday night game, isn't it? It's going to be a barn-burner. They know what's at stake. We know what's at stake. That's what this division is all about. When two teams can play and something is on the line, that's important.
"I think you're seeing Detroit (2-5 after beating Tampa Bay) bouncing back and they look like they're putting it back together. There are going to be a lot of interesting things happening before this year is over."
Jim Harbaugh completed 16 of 23 passes for 194 yards and one touchdown. He tied a club record, set by Rudy Bukich in 1964, with 13 completions in a row.
Then there was the inspired play of 35-year-old defensive tackle Steve McMichael, who recorded two sacks and forced two fumbles, recovering one.
The Bears took a 3-0 lead with 13 minutes 8 seconds left in the opening quarter after McMichael's first key play. He sacked Packers quarterback Brett Favre and forced a fumble, which he recovered at the Packers' 22.
A seven-play drive highlighted by a 16-yard pass from Harbaugh to Tom Waddle (six catches for 65 yards) moved the ball to the 1. After Neal Anderson (33 yards on 11 carries) was stopped for no gain on third down, Kevin Butler was summoned to deliver an 18-yard field goal.
"We started off awfully slow and our defense kept us in the football game," said Ditka.
The Packers (2-5) tied the score 3-3 early in the second period on Chris Jacke's 51-yard field goal. It was Jacke's club-record fifth career field goal of 50 yards or more.
The Bears used deception to set up their next score. With fourth down on the Packers' 48, the Bears were set for an apparent punt. As the teams lined up to kick, the Bears' Mark Green ran onto the field as if he had forgotten to join his teammates. Punt blocker Ron Rivera frantically waved Green back to the sideline in an animated manner.
Green stopped one yard short of the sideline, however, and continued downfield as the ball was snapped to punter Chris Gardocki.
A former high school quarterback, Gardocki passed to Green, who was tackled inside the 5. The play covered 43 yards. A personal foul by the Packers advanced the ball to the 3.
"It was the key play in the game, there's no question about it," said Ditka. "We ran one against the Giants and it didn't work. If they work, they look great. If they don't work . . . it's back to high school."
Two plays later, fullback Brad Muster plunged over for the score and a 10-3 lead with 7:44 left in the first half.
First-year special-teams coach Danny Abramowicz was credited with designing the play that the Bears have been practicing for three weeks.
"Danny's play is one we had worked on for a long time, and sometimes the simplest of plays are effective," Ditka said. "I gave Danny a game ball. He really has worked tremendously hard to try to make us better on the special teams. The guys are responding to him."
The Bears moved out to a 17-3 lead with 1:54 left in the half. Harbaugh passed 4 yards to tight end Keith Jennings for the score. It was Jennings' first NFL touchdown reception.
"I thought Harbaugh played well, and I also thought (offensive coordinator) Greg (Landry) gave him the tools to play with," said Ditka. "Once we saw that they had eight men up front . . . we couldn't run the ball, to be honest with you."
It took the Packers only 30 seconds to retaliate. Favre floated a 45-yard pass to Sharpe (nine catches for 244 yards) to the Bears' 10. He beat Donnell Woolford on the play.
On the next play, Favre pump-faked and lofted another pass to Sharpe into the left corner of the end zone, and Sharpe beat cornerback Lemuel Stinson as the Packers pulled within 17-10.
The Bears drove from their own 25 to the Packers' 13 before Butler added a 30-yard field goal with :03 remaining for a 20-10 halftime advantage.
The Packers moved to the Bears 10-yard line in the third quarter, only to have Jacke shank a 28-yard field goal attempt wide left with 5:12 left.
The Bears took over and marched 76 yards to the Packers' 4 before Butler hit on his chip shot from 21 yards out for a 23-10 lead.
Packers linebacker Brian Noble injured his back on a first-down play from the Packers' 1, as Muster fumbled and Harbaugh recovered at the 4.
Noble was carried off the field on a stretcher and taken to a hospital. X-rays were normal and he was scheduled to undergo a magnetic resonance imaging exam Sunday night. Noble had regained feeling in his legs, said Packers physician Clarence Novotony.
"I was really sorry to see Brian get hurt," said Ditka. "We don't like to see anybody get hurt in a football game."
The Bears put the game away with a brilliant 30-yard TD run by Darren Lewis with 3:37 left. Lewis, who was given a game ball, broke away from at least four defenders who had a shot at him. Butler converted for a 30-10 lead. "I don't know that I have seen a guy run through six people, because we didn't block anybody," Ditka said. "They defensed the play perfectly. They knew it was coming, and he did the rest.
"Every time I get him on the field, which is not enough, he does something good for us."
The Bears' offense rang up 356 total yards.
"I thought Jim did a good job of mixing up (plays) and throwing the ball when we had to," said Ditka. "The only thing disappointing is that we missed some third-and-short situations (4 for 12). We have to try to make those to be more effective."
The Packers amassed 248 total yards, but rushed for only 60.
"Defensively, we had enough pressure on (Favre) early in the game," Ditka said. "I think it threw him a little out of whack. That is going to be a fine offense and a good football team.
"They had us off guard with a lot of their plays and they do a lot of good things. And I think our defense had to play pretty well to stop what they were doing."