Dreams do come true

The human barometer had a screw loose on Sunday and was therefore of no use in reflecting the condition of a team that floated off the Soldier Field turf, oblivious to everything but the scattered applause of the frozen faithful.

Bryan Cox had his head down and his spirits likewise as he trudged toward the Bears' locker room. "I am treating this like a loss," he muttered a short time later, obviously missing a rare opportunity to celebrate.

But all around him there was no such oversight. The Bears had beaten the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 13-7 under the fading sunlight of what had seemed a hopeless afternoon, and they had won in the manner in which they always envision winning.

They were opportunistic and aggressive on defense, scoring the only points they would in fact need by forcing turnovers on the Bucs' first two possessions. They pounded out yards on the ground, thereby controlling the clock. And, for one of the few times in this 2-10 season, they limited their mistakes.

It was the type of game they needed, a game they craved, a game coach Dave Wannstedt might well have required to reinforce team President Michael McCaskey's intention to honor his contract.

"It proves," tailback Raymont Harris said, "that we're not dead."

Consequently, Cox's two-flag meltdown late in the third quarter, which sandwiched the Bucs' only score of the day, was inconsequential, as moot in victory as it would have been dramatic in defeat.

The lasting impression is that when it was time to lose, the Bears didn't.

"Everybody has been waiting for this team to fold and quit, and these players have not done it and will not do it," Wannstedt said.

If the franchise's 600th victory was quirky, it was also well-earned against one of the best rushing attacks in the league and one of the most punishing defenses.

It was instead the Bears' defense--holding an opponent under 20 points for the first time all season--that made the Bucs pay, limiting a team that had been averaging 128 yards on the ground to a mere 35 and holding the NFL's highest-rated quarterback on third-down conversions to 3 of 11.

And they did not wait to set the tone, with end Mark Thomas forcing a fumble by Joliet's Mike Alstott on the first play of the game, giving the Bears the ball at the Tampa Bay 41 following Walt Harris' recovery.

Five plays and a 31-yard scamper by Erik Kramer later, a battered but determined Raymont Harris (116 yards on 33 carries) plowed over from the 2 for the touchdown, and the Bears had momentum they relinquished only temporarily before the day was over.

"That set the tone, a lot," tackle Carl Simpson said.

It certainly extended to the next series. Harris stripped receiver Horace Copeland following a 6-yard reception, and Barry Minter's recovery presented the Bears' offense the ball on the Bucs' 30-yard-line.

This time, Jeff Jaeger kicked a 32-yard field goal for a 10-0 Bears lead. Jaeger added a 25-yarder in the second quarter, giving the Bears a 13-0 advantage and marking only the third time this season they had led at halftime. For the first time they made it stand up for a victory.

For Kramer, coming off a career-best passing day in last week's mistake-riddled loss to the New York Jets, Sunday was an exercise in patience. He rushed for a career-high 42 yards (on four attempts), more than the entire Bucs team. But without his starting receiver tandem of Curtis Conway and Bobby Engram, he passed for just 110 yards, completing 15 of 28 attempts.

"We sure as heck pulled the reins back some, and the way I look at it, sometimes you have to win games like that," Kramer said. "The 49ers are 10-1, and look at some of their wins. It's not always going to be picture-perfect.

"We definitely made a conscious effort not to make many mistakes."

The offense certainly succeeded--no turnovers and no penalties--and the defense remained disciplined until Cox was flagged on a questionable roughing-the-passer call, a 15-yard walkoff that gave the Bucs the ball at the Bears' 33 late in the third quarter. Two plays later, safety Marty Carter was flagged another 15 yards for unnecessary roughness on his tackle (originally for no gain) of Warrick Dunn, putting the Bucs at the 12.

On the next play, Trent Dilfer hooked up with Reidel Anthony, who made an over-the-shoulder catch in the end zone, leaving Cox on the field to voice his previous displeasure with the officials.

"He did not push him, he did not cuss him," Wannstedt said of Cox. "He just did not move on to the next play. We cannot have that. He knows it. But that's what happened."

The ensuing unsportsmanlike penalty on Cox, who "denounced" his Bears captaincy afterward, drew an emotional reaction from his teammates, who saw the potential upset disappearing before their eyes.

"Whenever you're on the field, you can't hurt your team," said special-teamer Marlon Forbes, one of several Bears to shake his finger in Cox's direction. "You can't give up 15, 30, 45 yards to any team in the NFL and still have a chance to win. And in our situation, that's the last thing we can do. We have to fight for every single thing we get."

In doing so, the Bears won their first home game of the season, snapped a string of seven division losses and, playing the spoiler role they have spoken of recently, bumped the Bucs out of first place in the NFC Central.

They also, interestingly, kept alive Tampa Bay's streak of never having won a game with the temperature below 42 degrees. That's 17 losses in 22 years of the franchise.

When it came down to it, however, it was much simpler than all that.

"I think we had a point to prove," center Chris Villarrial said. "It meant a lot to us to go out and show that we're not a 1-15 team."