Sunday's game against the Minnesota Vikings will go down in the record books as rookie quarterback Rex Grossman's first NFL victory. However, most of the credit for the win should go not to Grossman, but to the Bears defense.
"They were incredible," Grossman said. "Minnesota is a tough team to beat. Our offense was able to score enough points to win, but our defense kept us in the game."
Although the Vikings were able to get 393 net yards to the Bears 232,the Bears defense was able to contain WR Randy Moss, who had two rushing attempts for 14 yards and 9 receptions for 93 yards.
Moss was able to score on a 16 yard throw from Daunte Culpepper with 10:23 in the fourth, but LCB Charles Tillman's diving interception of a Culpepper pass intended for Moss with 1:11 left prevented a probable game winning touchdown for Minnesota.
"There's no doubt in my mind that Charles Tillman had the play of the game," Grossman said. "He should be in the Pro Bowl on that one catch."
Minnesota had a strong performance from TE Jim Kleinsasser who had 30 receiving yards, and RB Moe Williams with 55 yards. RB threat Onterrio Smith notched 148 on the ground. But the Bears seemed able to pull together and make the big plays when it mattered most.
The stats are impressive across the board. Mike Brown had one of his best games all season with 10 tackles. Jerry Azumah and Charles Tillman had 10 apiece. Brian Urlacher was strong with 7. Philip Daniels had 6,and Alex Brown had 6 including two sacks of Culpepper in the first half. The Chicago defensive squad was on the field for a total of 37:15 compared to 22:45 for the Bars offense.
"It got a little tiring after a while," said LE Philip Daniels, "but we knew exactly what we had to accomplish. We had to just go out there and win. I would have loved to have been in another situation, to have been playing for a post season berth but hey, it is what it is and we'll act accordingly."
It was clear that Daniels and other members of the defensive line felt a responsibility to Grossman.
"We had to give Rex the chance to take control of this game," Daniels said. "The only way we could do that was to contain Moss and to keep Viking points off of the board. I think that we were fairly successful at that. Minnesota did get more points than any of us would have liked, but we ended up winning the game so it turned out well."
The Bears seem to relish the role of spoiler at this point in their season.
"Going out against the division leaders and coming out on top? That's exactly what I had hoped for," said RE Alex Brown. "We are playing for pride right now. I think that we are also playing for next season. In a way, 2004 has already begun for this team. Things are getting better week by week for us Just look at the numbers and you'll see that it's true. We're coming together in unexpected ways. Check out the plays being made by rookies Lance Briggs and ‘Peanut' Tillman."
But isn't all of this a case of ‘too little too late' as far as the Bears are concerned?
"It's never too late," Brown said. "Momentum is always important, whether or not you are in the chase for the Super Bowl. You want to end your season on a high note. I think that during these last few games, we'll be able to find a number of good things that we can build on. This gives us the opportunity to think positively during the off season. You certainly don't want everybody just sitting around getting depressed because we didn't make the playoffs this year."
How does Brown see the Bears performing in 2004?
"I think that we have the ingredients for a good team both on defense and on offense. There were a lot of new players on the field this year. They really stepped up when they were called on. I think everybody will be surprised at just how good these guys will be next season. Grossman is off to a fine start, just as I thought he would be."
Any ‘wish list' of NFL prospects who will be in the 2004 draft?
"Just bring in some more Florida guys," Brown said. "They always make the big plays."