Mike Tomczak became a forgotten man when Jim Harbaugh was named starting quarterback for the Chicago Bears at the beginning of the season and then led the team to the NFC Central title.
But with Harbaugh injured, Tomczak got his first start of the season Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and he led the Bears to a 27-14 victory.
Tomczak, completed 16 of 33 passes for 239 yards, and connected on touchdown pass plays of 18 yards to Wendell Davis and 12 yards to James Thornton.
Tomczak, who also scored on a one-yard run, had two passes intercepted.
“I think Mike did a helluva job,” said Bear Coach Mike Ditka, who has frequently criticized Tomczak in the past. “I’m going to have him over for Christmas.”
The game was played in Christmas-like weather at Soldier Field, where the temperature was 11 degrees and the windchill plunged to minus-3.
Tomczak said the frigid conditions didn’t bother him.
“The weather really wasn’t that bad,” he said. “Traction was a problem at times, but a lot of the players went to the turf shoe in the second half and that worked better.”
Buccaneer quarterback Vinny Testaverde, who completed only nine of 21 passes for 111 yards, said the weather did affect the style of play.
“It was like playing on concrete,” said Vinny Testaverde, who passed for two touchdowns.
Kevin Butler kicked second-half field goals of 46 and 43 yards for the Bears (11-4), who wore black football patches on their uniforms in memory of defensive lineman Fred Washington, killed in a car accident on Friday.
The loss eliminated Tampa Bay (6-9) from playoff contention.
Tampa’s interim coach, Richard Williamson, said the Buccaneers seemed flat after their 26-13 victory over Minnesota last week.
“We weren’t as perky as we were last week,” Williamson said. “The defense gave us a chance, but we couldn’t do it offensively.”
The Bears shut down the Buccaneers’ after the first quarter except for a late touchdown pass play from Testaverde to Bruce Hill.
Chicago rookie Mark Carrier intercepted a pass by Testaverde in the third quarter, setting up a drive that ended with a scoring pass from Tomczak to Thornton.
It was Carrier’s NFL-leading 10th interception, which broke the Bears’ record of nine that he had shared with Roosevelt Taylor.
“I got a good jump on it,” said Carrier, who is four interceptions shy of the NFL single-season record set in 1952 by former Ram Dick (Night Train) Lane. “He (Testaverde) was throwing across his body and just didn’t get enough on it.”
Tampa Bay took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter on a five-yard touchdown pass from Testaverde to Mark Carrier, a cousin of the Bears’ safety.
Johnny Bailey helped set up the Bears’ first touchdown with a 36-yard punt return to the Tampa 44.
Tomczak, who misfired on his first five passes, then completed a 25-yarder to Wendell Davis.
Six plays later, Tomczak sneaked over from the one to tie the score, 7-7.
The Bears went ahead, 14-7, after stopping Tampa Bay on fourth and inches on the Chicago 11.
Tomczak then moved the Bears 89 yards, capping the drive with an 18-yard pass play to Davis.
Bear running back Neal Anderson, out with cracked ribs, missed his first game since 1987.
Brad Muster picked up the slack, rushing for a game-high 50 yards. Mark Green and Bailey added 45 and 13 yards, respectively.