Vasher in the Right Place at the Right Time

CHICAGO - Nathan Vasher is the interceptor once more. Vasher regained his identity as the "interceptor" in Sunday's 13-3 Bears win over the Carolina Panthers.

Vasher had become the "missed field goal returner" with his NFL record 108-yard missed field goal return against the 49ers, but produced his team- high fifth and sixth interceptions of the season to help trigger a quick 13-0 Bears lead against Carolina.

"Nate Vasher, same guy, we talk about him quite a bit," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "A lot of times a game like this comes down to takeaways and those two early ones that he had were big to get us started."

Vasher picked off a floating Jake Delhomme third-and-10 pass to Ricky Proehl at the Bears' 46 and returned it 46 yards to the Panthers' 8-yard line to set up the Bears' touchdown. He ran into teammate Jerry Azumah, then bounced off and took off upfield.

The second pick came two possessions later and was also intended for Proehl. It also seemed to float right to Vasher and he returned it 22 yards from the Panthers' 40 to their 18.

"He threw them right to me. I was just playing defense," Vasher said, laughing. "I always say that."

Vasher acknowledged it was a little more complicated. The Bears' defensive line got pressure on both times. Delhomme was facing a zone blitz and Vasher was back in coverage. Because of the pass rush, Vasher said, "The ball came out a whole lot faster than he wanted it to."

The Panthers' quarterback did get a career-high 14 completions to wide receiver Steve Smith, but nothing in the end zone.

"He's a great receiver; he made some plays. We just had to hang with him," Vasher said.

Vasher is now tied for the NFL lead with six interceptions. He is at a loss to explain how he could have 11 interceptions in 25 career games.

"It's a special gift. I don't know how to explain it," he said. "I just know I try to go out and work hard at practice and try to improve and be the best at practice. Whenever I get a chance to go out and play defense, especially against a premier receiver like Steve Smith, I want to up my game. I want to get out there. Our defense wants to get out there and show everybody what we really truly are.

"I'm having the right progressions, the right reads. It just looks easy, I guess. Football is one of those things you can or can't do. I obviously can."

Uptight Moose
Bears wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad had an emotional reunion with former teammates Sunday, and it seemed the emotion got the best of him at times.

Muhammad had a 3-yard TD catch and finished with six catches for 49 yards against the team he played for nine years, but it was Justin Gage who made most of the Bears' key receptions with a career-high seven for 81 yards. Worse for Muhammad, he dropped three passes outright, had another deflect off his hand that went for an interception and had another come out of his hands in the end zone on a difficult catch that would have been a huge TD.

"It was there a lot," Muhammad said. "I can't deny that. I would be crazy to sit here and try to lie about that. It was on my mind a lot."

Muhammad said he'll rebound in the future without the emotion of facing his former team.

"My focus will be a lot better," he said. "I expect to play a lot better next week.

"One thing about the Moose is he always bounces back. I'll probably bounce back 10 times harder."

After the game, Muhammad met all the Panthers receivers at midfield and they posed for pictures.

"Those are my guys; that was a group that I had mentored to and we led each other and went through a lot of battles," Muhammad said. "I talked to them earlier this week and I wanted to get a picture."

Pocket Protector
Tackle Fred Miller's performance with a broken jaw was all the more impressive considering he held Julius Peppers without a sack after Peppers had made 4 1/2 sacks the last two games.

The Bears, as a team allowed no sacks for the third time this year and hadn't done that prior to this season since 2002. The Panthers had made 19 sacks in their last four games prior to Sunday.

"We were worried about their pass rushers all week and I thought they (linemen) did a good job of not giving up any sacks and running the football," offensive coordinator Ron Turner said. "We just played our game. Nothing different.

"Obviously you're aware of guys like (Peppers) so you're smart and you try not to put the tackles on an island and single block them for seven steps (pass drops) all day. But we had to do it some and when we did they (tackles) stepped up and did it."

Hands On
The game's unsung hero might have been safety Chris Harris.

With the Bears leading 13-0, Delhomme threw for Ricky Proehl over the middle in the end zone for looked like a 13-yard touchdown to cut the Bears' lead to 13-7 in the fourth quarter.

Instead, Harris came from nowhere to dive and knock the ball down, forcing a field goal try.

"Jerry (Azumah) did a great job of pushing (the receiver) to the middle post (instead of outside) and Chris made a great read and diving stop on a hustle play," defensive coordinator Ron Rivera said.

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