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Bears' resurrection continues
The Bears have demonstrated over the last three weeks just how well they respond to adversity.
Now, after a bye next weekend, the football world will see how they respond to success.
Since starting the season 1-2 and being counted out by many as serious playoff contenders, the Bears have won three straight to lead the NFC Central with a 4-2 record.
If they didn't desperately need the time off to heal their many injured players, the Bears might be advised to petition the NFL to play through next weekend. They are on a roll after Sunday's 17-7 comeback victory over the New Orleans Saints in the Soldier Field sandbox.
"By no means are we even close to being satisfied," said coach Dave Wannstedt. "The key again was no turnovers (by the offense), and we forced them to turn the ball over. It was not pretty, but our guys laid it on the line and they found a way to win.
"We'll practice Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and give them the weekend off. I look forward to having dinner with my wife and kids for the first time since July."
The Bears fell behind 7-0 at the half before a big-play defense, opportunistic special-teams unit and backup quarterback Steve Walsh directed a furious comeback in front of 63,822 fans. The Bears are 3-0 since Walsh was called on to sub for the injured Erik Kramer.
The Saints fell to 2-4, while the Bears took a one-half game lead in the NFC Central over the Minnesota Vikings (3-2), who will play the New York Giants on Monday night at the Meadowlands. After the week off, the Bears travel to Pontiac, Mich., to play the Detroit Lions on Oct. 23. Six of the Bears' next eight games are on the road.
Lewis Tillman (23 carries for 100 yards) became the first Bears back to gain 100 yards since Neal Anderson (104 yards) did it on Sept. 26, 1993, against Tampa Bay.
"It's been a long time coming," Wannstedt said. "It's not going to be easy. It's going to be like that every week. Every yard is going to be a tough, hard-earned yard. Lewis Tillman is a dependable guy. He's a winner."
The field had been ripped up during Saturday's rain-drenched Jackson State-Alabama State game. On short notice, Chicago Park District workers covered the middle of the field with sand.
"The field obviously was a little tough from the standpoint of guys falling down." Wannstedt said.
Walsh connected on 16 of 26 passes for 174 yards and one touchdown-a 21-yarder to wide receiver Jeff Graham in the third quarter.
Each team passed up 44-yard field-goal attempts by going for it on fourth down in the first half. Each team failed to pick up the first down, however.
The Saints took a 7-0 lead when Jim Everett (22 of 39 for 209 yards, one TD and one interception) passed 18 yards over the middle to a wide-open Quinn Early in the second quarter.
A 50-yard field goal try by the Saints' Morten Andersen at the end of the half was blocked by Trace Armstrong.
Andersen's kickoff to start the second half was muffed by Tim Worley and recovered by the Saints' Derrell Mitchell at the Bears' 25.
But the Bears' defense stiffened and forced a 36-yard field-goal attempt by Andersen. This time Albert Fontenot deflected the low kick and the ball fell about 15 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. Safety Mark Carrier at first watched the ball bounce on the ground before picking up the free ball and running 54 yards down the west sideline.
"We coach them not to pick that ball up unless you're real sure. That's the Leon Lett play," said Wannstedt, referring to the Cowboys' lineman who tried to pick up a blocked field-goal attempt last season against Miami, only to fumble it back to the Dolphins to set up a winning score.
"If a lot of those guys (on New Orleans) are across that line of scrimmage and standing there and Mark bends over and touches that ball, it's a live ball and they can recover. If you block a field goal and it's on the other side of the line of scrimmage, it's our ball, regardless. So he had it all figured out."
The last time Andersen had two field-goal tries blocked in one game was 1989.
After the drive stalled at the Saints' 28, Kevin Butler booted a 46-yard field goal to pull the Bears within 7-3 with 11:39 left in the third quarter.
The Bears took a 10-7 advantage when Walsh passed 21 yards to Graham, who was covered tightly by two Saints defenders. The TD with 2:24 left in the third quarter was Graham's first in his last 103 catches.
"Steve placed the ball really well," Graham said. "I just adjusted to the throw. He threw it low, and the guy was outside of me. So it was a good throw on Steve's part."
Butler missed a 36-yard field-goal attempt wide right with 11:35 left in the fourth quarter.
The Saints drove to the Bears' 37 before a fourth-down fake punt resulted in an incomplete pass. Punter Tommy Barnhardt's perfect pass hit an unaware Sean Lumpkin on the back of his helmet.
The Bears added the clinching score on a 25-yard TD burst by Tillman with 2:31 left in the game.
"I really don't feel like a big star," Tillman said. "I feel like we had a good game today."
The Bears suffered no sacks. The last time that happened was in the 1992 season opener, 36 games ago. Only Seattle has a longer string.
"I thought our offensive line played very good," Wannstedt said. "I'm so proud of these guys. We were down 7-0 at the end of the half, then fumbled the kickoff to start the second half. Then these guys responded."