PHILADELPHIA — Sloppy performances and poor communication plagued the Bears in their two previous road games.
They struggled to get out of their own way in losses in New Orleans and Detroit, setbacks that put them in a hole during the first half of the season. But the improvements since then — and the benefit of a week off — showed Monday at raucous Lincoln Financial Field on a gorgeous evening for football.
Facing the high-powered Eagles offense led by Michael Vick, a player they've corralled in the past, the 8-point underdog Bears made enough plays to pull out a 30-24 victory, improving to 5-3 and keeping them in the thick of the NFC playoff race.
The Bears are now 4-0 against Vick in games he started, and they survived despite two fumbles by running back Matt Forte that the Eagles converted into touchdowns.
It sets up an even bigger game for the Bears on Sunday as the Lions (6-2) visit Soldier Field coming off their own week off. No one expects the Bears to chase down the Packers (8-0) in the regular season, but this is a critical game in a wild-card race that has started early, and a win would create a tie for second place in the NFC North.
Jay Cutler threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Earl Bennett and Robbie Gould kicked a 22-yard field goal in the fourth quarter, propelling the Bears to their third straight victory. Bennett, who caught two touchdown passes against the Eagles last season, had a team-high five catches for 95 yards and was the man Cutler looked to on third down.
"You never know who is going to get the ball versus the coverages," said Bennett, who missed the previous five games with a chest injury. "If you're the guy, Jay is going to give it to you."
Bennett's touchdown gave the Bears a 27-24 lead with 12:18 remaining after the Eagles had surged ahead in the third quarter. The passing game wasn't always pretty, but Cutler wasn't sacked and completed 18 of 32 passes for 208 yards.
The Eagles' drive at the end of the game fizzled when Jeremy Maclin stumbled after reaching to catch a high pass from Vick and was stopped at the 30-yard line, a yard short of a first down on fourth-and-10 with 1:45 remaining. Earlier the Eagles were driving to go ahead when the Bears defense held and a fake punt failed. Punter Chas Henry threw for an open Colt Anderson, but the pass was miserably short. It could have been a huge gain as Corey Graham left Anderson uncovered.
The Eagles trailed 17-10 at halftime but jumped ahead with two touchdowns in the third quarter. They tied the score at 17 on a 4-yard run by Ronnie Brown to cap an 80-yard, 15-play drive that opened the quarter. Then defensive end Trent Cole forced Forte's second fumble to set up a 33-yard touchdown run by LeSean McCoy, who scored in his eighth consecutive game.
That put the Eagles ahead 24-17 before Gould hit a 38-yard field goal. McCoy rushed for 71 yards, and the defense contained Vick, who was 21 of 38 for 213 yards to go with 34 rushing yards.
A wild final two minutes of the second quarter staked the Bears to the halftime lead. They led 10-0 early before the Eagles got on the scoreboard with a 47-yard field goal from Alex Henery. Three plays later, the score was tied after linebacker Brian Rolle stripped Forte in the flat and returned the ball 22 yards for a touchdown. It was the first fumble by Forte in 347 touches.
"It's hard to forget about," said Forte, who ran for 133 yards on 24 carries. "It happens as a running back, but you have to forget about it and move on to the next play.
It looked like the Eagles would be in position to score again just before halftime when they quickly forced the Bears to punt. But wide receiver DeSean Jackson, in the final year of his contract like Forte, fumbled the return when Corey Graham and Zack Bowman brought him down, setting up the Bears with first-and-goal from the 9. They needed a questionable roughing the passer call against Jason Babin to set up Marion Barber's 2-yard touchdown run.
The Bears took command in the first quarter, dominating the Eagles at the point of attack. They converted their first four third downs and took a 7-0 lead on the opening drive with a 6-yard pass from Cutler to tight end Matt Spaeth. An interception by Major Wright set up a 51-yard field goal by Gould for a 10-0 lead.
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