Bears Hit On All Cylinders Against Bucs

The Bears had to endure a week of the offense being criticized following a one touchdown performance against Green Bay. Despite scoring 33 points in three games the coaching staff said major changes wouldn't and couldn't be made this late in the season. However, the offense more than bounced back against Tampa Bay in arguably their most balanced game of the year, while the defense continued their steady play forcing four Buccaneer turnovers resulting in a 27-3 victory.

The win clinches a playoff spot for the Bears coupled with a Green Bay loss to Tennessee and Chicago is back atop the Central Division with a shot at home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Chicago came out aggressive throwing on 10 of their first 12 plays establishing the passing game, which eventually led to the running game taking over the in the second half. Anthony Thomas accounted 173 of the Bears 207 total rushing yards.

"We did open the game up throwing the ball," Dick Jauron said. "We did want to do that and we knew we'd definitely get back to the run. We knew we had to run the ball to win, but we wanted to start the game throwing."

In fact Jim Miller threw for 153 yards in the first half, which was more than any single amount in the Bears previous three games.

Weather wise things started out well for the Bucs as the game time temperature was above 40 degrees. Tampa Bay is winless in 19 games when the temperature drops below 40.

The Bears jumped out to a first quarter lead thanks to an aggressive attacking style offense. The "A-Train" Anthony Thomas started the Bears second drive with a nine yard run. Then Jim Miller got involved completing three consecutive passes to Marty Booker for 11 yards, Dez White for 26 and back to Booker for 13 more. Tampa Bay cornerback Ronde Barber was then flagged for roughing the passer moving the Bears down to the Bucs' 11 yard line. Chicago moved the ball to the five, but on 3rd and 4 Miller was sacked by Chicago native Simeon Rice, brining Paul Edinger on to attempt a 30 yard field goal. Edinger, who had missed his last two attempts, connected putting the Bears in front 3-0 with 5:43 left in the first quarter.

The game quickly turned into a battle for field position. Tampa moved the ball inside Bears territory, but the drive stalled at the 44. Mark Royals 41 yard punt pinned the Bears at their 3-yard line. John Shoop played it safe around his own endzone and tried to give Brad Maynard a little extra room to get a punt off. Maynard, who has been as consistent as any Bear this year, shanked a 27-yard punt giving Tampa the ball at the Bears 31.

Trying to capitalize on great field position. Brad Johnson went for receiver Karl Williams in the endzone on the following play, but Tony Parrish did not fall for the quarterbacks pump fake and was in position to intercept the lob. The strong safety leaped up and grabbed the ball over his head as he fell to the ground squandering the scoring chance.

Later in the quarter Miller was intercepted by Donnie Abraham, who returned the ball 18 yards to the Chicago 24. The Bears defense held the Bucs allowing just a 25-yard Martin Gramatica field goal, which tied the game at 3-3 with less than eight minutes to go before halftime.

The Bears offense struggled throughout the second quarter. At one point the offense had 12 yards on 13 plays. On 3rd and 10, Chicago looked to be a short away from punting the ball again, but Miller found David Terrell for a 62-yard gain on a busted play. As Miller's protection broke down he scrambled for time and found Terrell behind his coverage. The only thing that stopped the rookie from scoring was the back judge (Tony Steratore), who found himself in the path of Terrell.

"It was a play where I am supposed to go deep," Terrell said. "We run those plays every day in practice. If the play breaks down or Jim steps up, we've got hot routes. I had to jump over the back judge." Steratore slowed Terrell enough to allow Bucs safety Dexter Jackson to trip him up from behind. A delay of game penalty pushed Chicago back to the Tampa 7 and it looked like the offense would have to settle for another field goal after Marty Booker was ruled out of bounds in the back of the endzone. However, a quick look at the JumboTron persuaded the Bears coaching staff to challenge the ruling. A clear look at the play in slow motion proved Booker to be fleet of foot dragging both feet in bounds while haling in the fade pass.

The play was overturned thrusting Chicago into a 10-3 lead thanks to Booker's two-yard touchdown reception.

"When I saw it on the scoreboard, it looked like a touchdown to me," Jauron said. "Obviously, we wanted the seven (points) instead of having to kick it for three (points) so it certainly helped us."

The Bucs were on the verge of answering the Bears score, but Keyshawn Johnson was stripped of the ball inside Chicago's 10-yard line after a 47-yard reception. Walt Harris knocked the ball loose as it bounced toward the goal line Parrish recovered it at the one-yard line and returned it to the 22.

After a Chicago three and out the Bucs were once again on the move. However, this time Brad Johnson was sacked by Warrick Holdman forcing a fumble, which Alfonso Boone recovered giving the Bears a chance to put points on the board before halftime.

The Bears had three timeouts and 58 seconds to maneuver from their 47. A 25-yard completion over the middle to Terrell put Chicago in field goal range at the 25. An Edinger 46-yard field goal ended the half with the Bears up 13-3.

The defense took control of the game starting the second half with a three and out. Then the offense put some space between the teams with a nine-play 69-yard drive, which was led by the running game. Anthony Thomas' 21 yard scamper moved the ball to the Tampa 31. Then Miller went to his tight ends. Seldom used John Davis caught an eight-yard pass followed by an 18-yard touchdown reception by Fred Baxter. Miller threw into double coverage, but Baxter leaped up and made a spectacular catch for the score. The Bears led 17-3 with 8:11 left in the third period.

Anthony Thomas continued to rack up yardage throughout the quarter gaining 56 yards on 7 carries including a long of 25 yards. The "A-train" had just 27 yards at the half, but wore on a tired Bucs defense. He dominated the final 15 minutes of the game. Starting the quarter with runs of 13 and 14 yards moving the ball deep inside Bucs territory and putting the rookie over the century mark for the third time this season.

However, the Bears were left with 4th and 2 from the 11 and Jauron decided to put three more points on the board forcing Tampa to score three touchdowns to win. Edinger's 29-yard field goal was perfect, but the kick was nullified due to Shelton Quarles being flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. The Bucs linebacker tried to climb the back of one of his teammates in order to block the field goal, but the five-yard penalty resulted in a first and goal for Chicago from the five. Thomas carried the ball into the endzone on the following play. The score put the Bears up 27-3 with 11:25 left, which put the Bears in an unfamiliar position of having a comfortable lead in the fourth quarter.

With the game in hand Chicago stayed with the running game. Thomas rushed 15 times for 90 yards, which allowed the Bears to hold the ball for 12:25 of the final period.

The Bears clinched a playoff berth for the first time since 1994. Dick Jauron was elated to earn his first postseason appearance as a head coach.

"I don't know of a group I've been around that deserves the playoffs more than this group," Jauron said.

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