Every Which Way But Lose

CHICAGO - The Bears continued Sunday to struggle, yet survive. They negotiated winds gusting between 28 and 48 miles per hour off Lake Michigan Sunday better than the San Francisco 49ers to emerge with a 17-9 victory and their fifth straight win, while maintaining their two-game lead in the NFC North at 6-3.

It was a win much like many of the others in their streak: they struggled through turnovers, losing running back Cedric Benson to a sprained right knee but found a way. This time it was with momentum provided by Nathan Vasher's first half-ending 108-yard missed field goal return for the longest touchdown in NFL history.

"I'm going to go back to good football teams find a way to make some plays," coach Lovie Smith said in explaining this trend. "You don't know who it will be. We had to overcome quite a bit."

Four turnovers was one problem. The wind was the other.

"It was ridiculous," Bears quarterback Kyle Orton said about the playing conditions. "It was bad."

49ers quarterback Cody Pickett could complete only one pass on the day in the windy conditions, the lowest total against the Bears in 56 years. Bears punt returner Bobby Wade fumbled or muffed away three returns due to the wind and the Bears had trouble getting off two field goal attempts because the wind even seemed to affect snaps.

The Bears were one play away from going into the locker room at halftime down 3-0 when the game changed drastically much the way the wind speed did all day.

"When things aren't going exactly right, sometimes you need one play to kind of get you started," Smith said.

After making a 30-yard field goal earlier in the second quarter following a Wade fumble, the 49ers' Joe Nedney lined up for a half-ending, 52-yard field goal try even after seeing the wind slap one 39-yard first-quarter kick by the Bears' Robbie Gould silly. Nedney's try faded fast, and Vasher fielded it 8 yards deep in the end zone. He hesitated, ran it out, spun to avoid a tackle, cut across the field and picked up a convoy of blockers to go 108 yards for a touchdown and the longest play in the 85-year history of the NFL.

It gave the Bears a 7-3 lead, and they expanded it from that point with strong running, defense and the help of the wind.

"I was feeling like I was running the 400 meters out there," Vasher said.

Vasher had the speed advantage on the play, because the 49ers' field goal team was almost all bigger players.

"That's what you get when you get a bunch of 300-pound guys trying to bring down a 200-pound guy," said 49ers guard Justin Smiley, who had been among those Vasher left behind.

"It was huge," Orton said. "We thought we had dominated the first half and we were down 3-0 with three seconds left. We were kind of disappointed about that.

"We felt like we should have the game under control and we didn't execute. We couldn't close the door in the first half when we got down in the red zone, had some trouble on the snaps on the field goals. So to get that play -- I've never seen anything like that before -- and to come into halftime at 7-3 instead of 3-0 was huge emotionally."

Orton completed only 8-of-13 for 67 yards but looked far better than Pickett, who was held to 1-of-13 on the day for 28 yards. A four-point halftime lead loomed large considering playing conditions, which made both sides turn ultra conservative.

"We threw the game plan out the door," Orton said. "We spent a long time on that game plan throughout the week preparing for it and everything, and threw it out the door the first play of the game. That's how it goes."

The Bears' defense supplied a game-changing series with a stand which forced the third of Nedney's three field goals, a 29-yarder with 10:47 left in the game. Wade had muffed a punt, giving the 49ers first-and-goal at the Bears' 2 with the Bears ahead 14-6. Two stuffed runs and a couple of 49ers 5-yard penalties later, the Bears had forced a kick.

Their own offense managed a 7-yard Adrian Peterson TD run to end a 76-yard drive after the 49ers' Nedney had pulled San Francisco within 7-6 on his team's first possession of the third quarter.

Peterson wound up with a career-high 120 yards on 24 carries, including 92 yards on 18 second-half carries as the Bears won for the 59th time in the last 61 games that they ran 40 times.

"It was almost impossible to throw the ball today," Peterson said. "It's always good to step in and step up."

The 49ers had their own critical muffed punt with 8:56 left in the game while still in it, but facing a 14-9 deficit. Reserve defensive back Chris Thompson came up with a ball Rasheed Marshall let go through his hands at the 49ers' 24. Three plays later, Gould's 37-yard field goal provided an eight-point lead, which was enough for the Bears' defense considering the windy conditions and Pickett's inability to complete more than one pass.

"I think when you're not playing your best football, sometimes but you can still manage to pull out a win," Vasher said. "It says a whole lot about the team and the character of the team."

On Sunday it also said a lot about their ability to manage themselves in some very difficult conditions.

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