Escape Artists

TAMPA - Victory seemed inevitable to the Bears even with the possibility of overtime looming. That's just the kind of roll they're on.

"We just know we're going to get it done," quarterback Kyle Orton said after their 13-10 win Sunday over Tampa Bay made it seven straight wins. "That missed field goal even, it just seems like when you're a good football team and you keep on pressing on people, you press them into mistakes."

There was no one pressing on Matt Bryant. Yet the Bears' win streak hit seven because their offense eked out 13 points, the defense dominated in the Tampa heat but appeared to wither at the wrong time, and Bryant simply handed them a gift.

"We got lucky with the missed field goal," Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher said.

The Bucs' place-kicker sent a 29-yard chip shot field goal a few inches wide right with 2:47 left in the game, and the Bears' offense was able to kill all but 15 seconds off the clock before defensive end Adewale Ogunleye sealed the win by sacking Bucs quarterback Chris Simms on the final play.

Orton's explanation was definitely a reach on this Sunday, but before this season the Bears winning seven straight for the first time since 1986 seemed a reach, as did an 8-3 record using a rookie starting quarterback. Even wilder, the Bears now own the second-best record in the NFC and, if the season ended now, a first-round playoff bye after starting 1-3.

"NFC win, on the road, a team we have had trouble with in the past," coach Lovie Smith said, reeling off the list accomplished by one missed field goal. "They beat us last year. There is a good chance we will see them again (in the playoffs), hopefully, if we keep playing the way we are.

"This is huge for us; it is seven in a row."

The only logical explanations for the way they escaped overtime Sunday belonged to Bucs' coach Jon Gruden and involved some other good Bears fortune. Gruden said Bryant pulled a hamstring on the game's opening kickoff, but then added that the kicker seemed unaffected afterward.

"I missed it," Bryant said of his kick. "That's it. It was one of those days where something like that shouldn't happen."

Nevertheless, things like this keep on happening in this unlikeliest of Bears seasons. Even when all appears lost -- or at least in this case a 10-point fourth-quarter lead appeared gone -- something good occurs.

The "pressing" Orton spoke of occurred mostly early in the game, and came largely from the Bears' defense. Defensive end Alex Brown knocked the ball out of Simms' hand in the first quarter as the Bucs' quarterback reached back to throw on third down from his 8-yard line and it fell on the 1-yard line for the Bears' Tommie Harris to recover.

For the fifth time this season, the Bears' defense had caused a turnover on an opponent's opening drive.

"When you're rushing the passer and you get to him, I mean, I go for the ball most of the time," Brown said. "I want the ball out. Sometimes we can get what we want.

"Last week (against Carolina) I knocked it out twice and we didn't get one. But this week I knocked it out and we got it and we got the ball on the (1) and we were able to punch it in for seven."

A play later, the Bears led 7-0 when the Bucs bit on Orton's play-action fake and right end John Gilmore caught a TD pass in the back corner of the end zone.

"He put it out there a little further than I would have liked, but it was pitch and catch like in the backyard," said Gilmore of his first career TD and first catch of this season. "It wasn't that tough."

The Bucs did convert good field position at the Bears' 45 into a 27-yard Bryant field goal before the quarter ended, but managed to do little else through the first three quarters against the top-ranked Bears defense. They had five first downs until late in the third quarter, had six of their first 10 drives go for four plays or less and punted seven of their first 10 possessions.

"The defense is always going to give you turnovers like they did today down on the 1-yard line, capitalizing on that and scoring," Bears tackle John Tait said. "If we can get a lead in the game, it's tough for other teams to catch up because our defense is so good."

For more than four quarters, this proved the case.

Bears kicker Robbie Gould ended a 40-yard, two-minute drill just before halftime by making a 25-yard field goal. They then added what seemed a severe blow to the Bucs' chances with 3:52 left in the third quarter by making a 36-yard field goal after Jones ran for 20 of his 72 yards and caught a 41-yard screen pass on a 65-yard drive.

"Defensively, with a 10-point lead, you feel pretty good with our defense," Smith said. "They got a little momentum going there at the end, but with the pressure we were able to get up front with Alex and the rest of the guys, it really came through for us."

It didn't occur without a scare.

FB Mike Alstott ended the Bears' defensive streak of touchdown-free quarters at 11 when he concluded a 50-yard fourth-quarter drive by leaping in from the 2 to cut the Bears' lead to 13-10 with 7:00 to play.

The Bucs (7-4) rode the momentum to the Bears' 11-yard line on their next possession with a 58-yard drive made possible by Simms' 30-yard pass to Joey Galloway.

However, on third-and-two, Mike Brown's blitz forced Simms to throw away a pass and forced Bryant's missed final field goal.

Two teams using the same defensive systems and same approaches on offense had battled through four quarters -- each achieving 15 first downs each, the Bears rushing for 118 yards and throwing for 121 and the Bucs rushing for 107 and throwing for 168 -- and one missed chip shot decided it.

"It was basically going to be a chess match and I guess we checkmated them," Harris said.

Or in this case, the Bucs checkmated themselves.

"We knew it was going to be tough, we knew it was going to be one of those games where every point counted and every yard counted," Alex Brown said. "We won by two or three inches because if the ball goes left two or three inches they make the field goal. But it didn't and we won."

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