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Bears, Wannstedt in 'W' column at last
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the NFL's antidote for whatever ails your favorite team, helped the Bears out of their malaise Sunday at Soldier Field.
The Bears, now 1-2, took advantage of virtually every opportunity the winless Bucs provided them en route to a therapeutic 47-17 thrashing at Soldier Field.
Quarterback Jim Harbaugh (17 of 22 for 192 yards, two touchdowns) and running back Neal Anderson (104 yards on 23 carries, one TD) rejuvenated an offense that had limped along in its first two games. And the Bears' defense held the NFL's worst offense to 36 yards rushing.
"To be totally honest, there probably was a lot of pressure on the whole (Bears) team," Harbaugh said. "Tampa is a good team, but I think that if we had lost this game, I don't know what people would have said. The team needed it."
Bears players handed Dave Wannstedt the game ball following his first NFL head coaching victory. Wannstedt, in turn, handed the ball to Bears President Michael McCaskey in the locker room.
"I'm happy for the guys who put the work in," Wannstedt said. "I'm happy for Mike McCaskey and the organization. And I'm happy for anything that is involved with the Bears tradition-people, fans, everything. I just want to make sure that everybody knows that we're headed in the right direction. It's going to take some work, and we're willing to do that. Today was a good start."
The Bears avoided their worst start in 24 years with the one-sided victory in front of 58,329 fans. Tampa Bay helped by providing seven turnovers, four on interceptions and three on fumbles.
"The turnovers obviously were the difference in the game," Wannstedt said. "That's something that we've been working on since Day One. The difference this time is, we made plays when we got good field position and scored some points."
Anderson became the first Bear to rush for 100 yards since Brad Muster did it on Nov. 17, 1991, at Indianapolis. Anderson also became the Bears' second all-time leading rusher behind Walter Payton.
"We've got to give the ball to the guys who give us a chance to win," Wannstedt said.
Tampa Bay stunned the Bears with a flea-flicker on the first play from scrimmage. Quarterback Craig Erickson handed off to fullback Anthony McDowell, who pitched back to Erickson, who passed 67 yards to Courtney Hawkins.
The Bucs drove to the Bears' 6 before Michael Husted kicked a 24-yard field goal. The Bears' Alonzo Spellman was offsides on the play, however, giving the Bucs a first down at the 3. The defense again stiffened, forcing Husted to kick a 20-yarder on fourth down for a 3-0 lead.
Bears free safety Mark Carrier picked off his first interception in two years with 7:25 left in the first quarter. He returned Erickson's errant toss 22 yards to the Tampa Bay 21.
"I was trying to score," Carrier said. "It felt good because I could see the crowd get behind us even more from there."
But Harbaugh and center Jerry Fontenot botched the exchange on first down and the Bucs' Broderick Thomas recovered.
The Bears took advantage of Tampa Bay's next turnover. McDowell fumbled when hit by linebacker Myron Baker, who also recovered the loose ball at the Bucs' 24 with 14:38 left in the second quarter.
Anderson scored from a yard out at the end of the eight-play drive, and Kevin Butler converted for a 7-3 Bears lead.
The Bears took a 14-3 advantage on a 1-yard sprint-out by Harbaugh with 4:51 left in the second quarter. The score culminated a 78-yard, six-play drive. Harbaugh, booed early in the game, spiked the ball in the south end zone following his score.
"It was the first time I ever did one. It was kind of nice, kind of fun," Harbaugh said.
"I thought Jim handled the pressure well from the get-go," Wannstedt said. "He made two or three nice audibles."
The Bears seized a 21-3 first-half lead when Harbaugh passed 25 yards to tight end Ryan Wetnight, giving the rookie his first NFL touchdown.
"They had a little bit of a coverage breakdown, and I was wide open," Wetnight said. "Jim made a great throw. I was just making sure of that catch. The easy ones are the hardest ones."
Erickson fumbled after being sacked for a 16-yard loss by Chris Zorich. Trace Armstrong recovered on the Bucs' 17.
Harbaugh hit Tom Waddle with a 17-yard TD pass in the corner of the end zone on first down for a 28-3 lead.
The Bucs scored on a 62-yard fluke play at the end of the first half when Erickson's "Hail Mary" pass bounced off the hands of Tampa Bay receiver Horace Copeland and into the arms of Lamar Thomas at about the Bears' 3. He sprinted into the end zone to make the score 28-10 at the half.
Butler hit two field goals early in the third period, and linebacker Ron Cox later sacked Erickson and forced a fumble recovered by Myron Baker, who returned it eight yards for a touchdown. After Jones' second interception, Butler lined his fourth field goal from 32 yards for a 44-10 lead.