Staying Alive

Chicago - The Bears believe they need to win out in order to have a chance at playing in the postseason. Although five straight wins doesn't guarantee the Bears anything, if Chad Hutchinson plays the way he did against the Vikings the chances of running the table improve dramatically.

In one half, Hutchinson topped the team's offensive production in the previous three weeks. Chicago had six touchdown passes through 11 games, but Hutchinson capped a 24-14 victory over the Vikings with three touchdowns and no interceptions.

The defense gave up 391 yards, but was able to force four turnovers and hold the high-powered Minnesota attack to just 14 points and blanked them in the second half.

"They put up some numbers today but we were able to get the ball on some picks and fumble recoveries and made some big plays when we had to," said Jerry Azumah, who picked off Daunte Culpepper twice.

Brian Urlacher reminded everyone why the team is winless in four games without him on the field. After missing the previous two games following surgery on his calf, Urlacher had a sack and interception.

"He's our best player," Lovie Smith said. " He makes all of the calls each play. He's our leader and to lead you have to come up with big plays and he did that all day. Brian has as much talent as anybody playing the game, so he should be able to make a lot of big plays."

Culpepper's three interceptions were all caught inside the red zone.

"We talk about how important turnovers really are and they were really huge today," Smith said. "We were challenged before the game, called out by them, and we showed up and the guys fought until the last whistle."

What Smith is referring to is Randy Moss trash talking during pre-game warm-ups. The receiver also had harsh words for the defense following a scrum in the first matchup of the year and got into a shoving match with Charles Tillman that carried into the sideline.

"I took it personal. It's like if I come in your house and I'm cursing you, you're going to take it personal," Tillman said.

Moss, who was held in check with just 4 receptions for 31 yards, has had to watch the replay of Tillman ripping the ball out of his hands in the end zone for a year.

The Vikings moved the ball at will in the first half. They were on their way to taking the lead on their first possession, but an overthrown pass to Nate Burleson deflected off his hands and went directly to Azumah. Using his kick return skills, Azumah weaved his way down the sideline for a 52 yards return, which led to the Bears first score.

The Bears converted three third downs to get on the scoreboard. Hutchinson hit Justin Gage for 20 yards on third and 16, which setup first and goal. Two plays later Hutchinson failed to find an open receiver, so he tucked the ball and ran. Minnesota LB Chris Claiborne escorted him to the sideline with a hard hit. Hutchinson bounced back up and had a few words for Claiborne that seemed to bring the crowd to life.

"It didn't hurt," Hutchinson said of the hit. "I just got up and said keep brining it because I'm going to keep taking it."

On the next play Hutchinson found TE Desmond Clark for a 6-yard touchdown pass. It was just the second of the year by a Bear tight end. Clark came into the game with 12 receptions but led the offense with six receptions, despite missing the final quarter because of a shoulder injury.

The Vikings answered with a 7-play 72-yard drive, highlighted by a 39-yard completion to TE Jermaine Wiggins and a 26-yard run by Onterrio Smith. Culpepper capped the possession by hitting Burleson for a four-yard touchdown.

Early in the second quarter a drop at the 9-yard line by David Terrell cost the Bears a chance at another touchdown. He also had a penalty on the possession to go with a 19-yard catch. Paul Edinger connected on a 53-yard field goal to put the Bears back in front at 10-7.

The Vikings were on the verge of taking the lead when Urlacher stepped in front of a Culpepper pass at the 2-yard line.

"I was trying to go to Marcus (Robinson), and he (Urlacher) made a really good play," Culpepper said. "I was trying to loft it over him, and he just kind of faded back and made a great play."

Thanks to Urlacher's 42-yard return the offense took near midfield, but couldn't add to their lead when Edinger came up short on a 52-yard field goal attempt.

The next time around Robinson and Culpepper hooked up for a touchdown. Charles Tillman had zone coverage on the receiver and failed to get help from R.W. McQuarters, who made his first start at free safety.

The lack of communication between the two cost the Bears, as Robinson caught a 40-yard touchdown pass from Culpepper that gave Minnesota the lead at 14-10 just before the two-minute warning.

With two timeouts at their disposal the offense remained aggressive and went to the air against Minnesota. Hutchinson completed 6-of-10 passes for 76 yards, including a 31-yard completion to Bobby Wade on third and 17. Hutchinson showed enough confidence in Terrell to go back to him on a perfect lob into the end zone that resulted in a 15-yard TD pass, which was his first of the season.

"I just said ‘hey there's going to be more opportunities and hang with me I'm going to get you another one.' It's just of those things that I'm going to make some mistakes, he's going to make some mistakes that's the way the game goes but just hang in there and we'll get after it," Hutchinson said of his sideline conversation with Terrell.

The offense failed to capitalize on an opportunity to extend the lead. Tillman stripped Randy Moss and Mike Green recovered at the Minnesota 14. However, Hutchinson fumbled three plays later to give the ball right back to the Vikings.

44-year-old Morten Anderson couldn't convert on a 38-yard field goal attempt that would have tied the game.

With Thomas Jones struggling to gain consistent yardage through three quarters, the Bears turned to Anthony Thomas. The "A-Train" carried seven times for 39 yards on a 13-play drive that ended with Hutchinson throwing his third TD pass of the day. He hit Jason McKie in the back of the end zone on a five-yard score with just over 10 minutes to play.

A failed fake punt near midfield looked to seal the Vikings fate, but when the Bears couldn't get a yard on third or fourth down Minnesota had one last chance to steal a victory.

With three straight completions Culpepper moved the ball to the Chicago 21. However, Alex Brown hit him as he tried to complete a pass to Moe Williams and Azumah came up with the floating ball for his second pick of the game.

"Of course, a big win for us and a first step. We felt like we have to win out (to have a chance at the playoffs) and we had to get this first one under our belt," Smith said.

The Vikings and Packers both losing on Sunday the Bears remain two games out of the division race and a game behind the in the wildcard.


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