Up next: First look at Chicago

Like the 49ers, the Chicago Bears enjoy a bye in Week 7. The Bears then host the struggling Niners in Week 8, when they hope to further develop an offense that has been a huge surprise this season.

Individually, wide receiver Bernard Berrian is one of the key reasons the Bears have a legitimate offense to complement their championship-caliber defense.

The lean, third-year speedster had 19 catches for 413 yards in the first five weeks of the season, more yards than any player in the NFC, and he led the Bears and was tied for the NFL lead with four receiving touchdowns. Berrian's 21.7-yard average per catch was better than anyone in the league with more than ten catches.

"It's really fun when we're winning," Berrian said. "We were winning last year, but I don't think we were having too much fun; on the offense side at least. We were winning, but we weren't winning the way we wanted to win. But now we're putting up points, and we're doing it how we envisioned it. We're moving the ball."

Nobody on the Bears moves the ball faster or farther than Berrian.

He has all five of the team's receptions of 40 yards or longer this season. In Weeks 4 and 5, the 6-foot-1, 185-pound, third-round draft choice from Fresno State has 205 receiving yards on just 7 catches for a 29.3-yard average.

"He's a big-play threat," Bears coach Lovie Smith. "After five games, what you see right now, is what you are. He's the big-play threat that we want. Teams are ganging up, stopping our run, so we have to be able to hit some of the deep passes. That's what Bernard gives us."

Berrian's always been gifted with exceptional speed, but he missed five games with a thumb injury last season and then, after he came back and led the Bears with five catches for 68 yards in the playoff loss to the Panthers, he suffered a hip injury that ended his day early.

One look at Berrian's slight frame and spindly legs would lead to questions about his durability. That's a hurdle he's worked hard to clear, pumping iron as never before and adding bulk without losing any speed.

"He's bigger, stronger, and he's more comfortable with what we're doing with the system, and that definitely helps," offensive coordinator Ron Turner said. "And he's having some success. He and Rex have something going, and they get a lot of confidence. A lot of it just has to do with maturity, being a year older."

After last season, Berrian found himself in an unproven group behind go-to guy Muhsin Muhammad. In 2005 Justin Gage began the season as the Bears' other starter, was beaten out for the job by rookie Mark Bradley, and then reclaimed the job after Bradley's knee injury. Berrian was just another guy in the mix along with converted cornerback Rashied Davis.

"He got in the weight room, got stronger and got his body in much better shape," wide receivers coach Darryl Drake said. "He's more physical than he's been in the past, which has given him more endurance, and he's worked. Sometimes I have to kick him out of the weight room now, which is a good thing.

"Everything that I asked him to do in the off-season, he's done. When you see guys doing those things, and then you see them having success, it gives me credibility for things that I've told him, and it gives him credibility on the football field."

The deep threat that Berrian provides has been the perfect complement to a Bears offense that already was strong on the ground and had a solid veteran presence in Muhammad but lacked great speed. Berrian's home-run ability has enabled the Bears to stretch opposing defenses and is expected to open up the slow-starting run game now that opposing defenses have to respect the long ball.

As impressive as quarterback Rex Grossman has been in his break-out season, he couldn't have done it without Berrian, who has at least one catch of more than 40 yards in four of the Bears' five games.

--- RB Adrian Peterson, who led the Bears with a 5.0-yard average per carry last season, had just one carry for one yard through the first five weeks, as he found himself the odd man out behind Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson.
--- QB Rex Grossman had been sacked just four times and intercepted three times in the first five weeks, along with 10 TD passes. --- WR Bernard Berrian, who caught just 13 passes all of last season, had at least three catches in four straight games heading into Week 6.
--- WR Muhsin Muhammad had at least four catches in each of the Bears' first four games, and he had two 100-yard games after not getting any in 2005.
--- PK Robbie Gould was on pace for 211 points this season through five games, having hit all 17 of his FG attempts and all 15 PATs.

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