Allen Plays The Hero

MINNEAPOLIS _ If Anthony Thomas is the A-Train, perhaps James Allen is ``the little engine who could.'' Discarded to the bench when Thomas became a starter, Allen emerged as a replacement for the injured A-Train Sunday night in the Bears' 13-6 win over Minnesota.

``We have a lot of confidence in James,'' Bears coach Dick Jauron said after Allen rushed for 107 yards on 27 carries, his third career 100-yard game.

``Always have. We expected that kind of performance tonight.

``And he didn't disappoint us at all. He is a gamer, he is a tough man --tough as nails.''

With Thomas suffering from a hamstring injury and turf toe, Allen carried 14 times for 80 yards in the first half as the Bears built a 10-0 lead.

Allen gained 20 yards in the drive to the Bears' first touchdown. He gained 15 yards rushing and caught an 8-yard pass in a second-quarter drive to Paul Edinger's 30-yard field goal.

Allen expected to find the going tough in the second half after his initial success.

He did.

``After the first half, the way we were running the ball, I knew they would be bringing the safeties up and stuff like that,'' Allen said. ``The thing then was to stay patient.''

The Bears went to the play-action pass and the running game late while trying to run out the clock. David Terrell caught play-action passes of 25 and 26 yards and Allen came up with big runs of 9 and 13 yards to effectively kill Minnesota's chances of a comeback.

Now Allen isn't sure if he'll return to the bench against Detroit next week or if Thomas will rest his hamstring.

``I know I'm good enough to start,'' Allen said. ``That's not the issue. It's not about starting. It's about making plays.

``It's about winning. Who knows what's going to happen. All I know is we got the win today.''

Defensive end Phillip Daniels argues that it's not always bad if he only gets close to a sack without making it, and could draw supporting evidence from a first-quarter play Sunday night.

Daniels, who is tied for 10th in the NFC with sacks at five, recorded his sixth and seventh pass deflections of the season in the first half. His first tip came when he chased Daunte Culpepper and knocked a third-and-three pass into the air that Rosevelt Colvin intercepted.

``I just play hard no matter what snap it is,'' he said. ``You're not going to get to the quarterback every time. You're going to have those years where you're a step away almost every time.

``That's what's happening to me. I'm a step away.''

Daniels knows people expect sacks from a $24 million defensive end. He insists he is providing more than most defensive ends, however.

``A lot of ends play the pass. A lot of ends just play run,'' Daniels said.

``I play both. I think that's the true value of an end -- if you can play the whole game.

``You don't want to just pass rush and get up field and they run 30 yards on you. You don't want to sit back play run and they're getting passes off like crazy. I think the mark of a true defensive end is if you can play both.''

Besides leading the Bears in sacks coming into Sunday's game, Daniels also led in tackles for losses with seven. With 41 tackles, he had more than any defensive lineman and more than strong side line linebacker Rosevelt Colvin.

Cornerback Walt Harris' play will be closely scrutinized over the last six games by Angelo and the coaching staff.

Harris, who last year missed the final three games with a sprained knee, is the only member of the Bears starting secondary without an interception this season. He missed a clear shot at an interception on the game's third play from scrimmage, a third-and-one first-down completion of 15 yards to Cris Carter.

Harris signed a one-year deal to return this season, but with R.W. McQuarters an unrestricted free agent, and backup Jerry Azumah getting a contract extension earlier this season, Harris' Chicago future appears iffy at best.

``Walt's playing good football for us now,'' defensive coordinator Greg Blache said. ``But last season right before Walt got hurt, Walt was playing as good a cornerback as there was in the league.

``I think he's moving back in that direction. I don't know if he's hit it yet. I haven't seen the turnovers, the interceptions, the big plays that he was making at that point in time. I'd like to see those re-emerge.''

Blache thinks Harris will elevate his play.

``Like I tell him, you want to play your best ball heading down the stretch. You want to get stronger and not weaker.''

Bears third tight end Dustin Lyman was on the inactive list for the eighth time in 10 games.

The Bears were missing starting running back Anthony Thomas due to a hamstring pull, but Minnesota was without some starters of their own. The Vikings started the game without starting fullback Jim Kleinsasser due to an ankle injury. They also had to play without starting offensive guard Corbin Lacina (lower leg) and starting tackle Brad Badger (toe).

The Vikings had their two best linebackers knocked out of the game in the first half. Kailee Wong went out with a knee sprain and Ed McDaniel with a lower leg injury.

ESPN.COM conducted a poll during a lengthy review of a backward pass that Bears punt returner Leon Johnson threw across the field to Jerry Azumah to determine whether viewers thought the play was an illegal forward lateral.

Fans voted 70 percent that the play should stand as a backward lateral and legal play. The officials concurred, setting the Bears up for a 30-yard Paul Edinger field goal.

Leon Johnson's first rushing attempt as a Bear went 34 yards to set up his own touchdown. It was longer than any run that running back James Allen has made for the team since his 163-yard effort Dec. 20, 1998 against Baltimore.

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