The Bears are still alive, and a victory like their 27-20 squeaker over the Packers at Lambeau Field could be just the jumpstart they need to what had been a depressing, disappointing season until the second half Sunday, when they overcame a 17-7 deficit to escape with a 2-3 record and drop the NFC North first-place Packers to 4-1.
"This was as much of a must win as you can get," said quarterback Brian Griese, who completed 15 of 25 passes for 214 yards for a passer rating of 97.8, surpassing Brett Favre's 83.5. "We needed the momentum, and we needed the confidence."
Lovie Smith, normally even-keeled and calm, became animated and emotional as he addressed his team's underwhelming first-half performance.
"It wasn't happy or friendly," said tight end Desmond Clark, who caught the game-winning 34-yard touchdown pass from Griese with 2:05 left to give Chicago the victory. "It was probably the most animated I've ever seen him."
Whatever Smith said, it worked. The Bears considered themselves fortunate to be trailing only 17-7 at halftime, even though they had been outgained in yards 341 to 122. Only two lost fumbles by the Packers kept the Bears from being blown out in the first half.
"We were lucky to be where we were at halftime," linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer said. "We could've easily been down by 27-3 or so. We squeaked one out. We stole one. You usually don't come back from being in a hole that deep."
The win wasn't secured until Brandon McGowan intercepted Favre in the end zone with one second left on a desperation throw from the Bears' 32-yard line.
LB Brendon Ayanbadejo
Morry Gash/AP Images
The Bears knew from past experience they could force Favre into mistakes if they pressured him, and it took a long time before he even came close to making an error. But, after playing nearly flawlessly for almost three quarters, Favre threw an ill-advised pass across his body while rolling out and hit middle linebacker Brian Urlacher in the chest. Urlacher's interception at the Packers' 19-yard line gave the wheezing Bears life. On the next play, they chopped seven points off a 20-10 deficit when Griese threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to rookie tight end Greg Olsen (four catches, 57 yards) with 4:19 left in the third quarter.
Later in the third quarter, the Packers turned the ball over for the fourth time when Charles Woodson fumbled on a hit by Brendon Ayanbadejo after a 25-yard punt return and punter Brad Maynard recovered at the Packers' 41-yard line. Griese's 17-yard pass to Mark Bradley, his first reception of the season, set up Robbie Gould's 36-yard field goal that tied the game at 20-20 on the third play of the fourth quarter.
"Turnovers told the story for us," Smith said. "Even though we didn't play well early, we were able to force some turnovers."
Reversing a trend that had haunted them most of the season, the Bears played the style of football that got them to Super Bowl XLI, taking the ball away five times while giving it away just once.
The Bears ended the first quarter with 20 total yards on nine plays and no first downs, while the Packers, on just 20 first-quarter plays, rolled up 191 yards.
Already leading 7-0 after a score on their first series, the Packers threatened on their next two possessions but stopped themselves on fumbles by wide receiver James Jones, both of which were forced by cornerback Charles Tillman.
"Charles Tillman is the best player I've ever seen when it comes to stripping the ball," Smith said.
The first fumble was recovered by Ricky Manning Jr. at the Bears' 5-yard line and returned to the 16. The second was pounced on by Adam Archuleta at the Bears' 38, but the offense was unable to take advantage of either.
It saved that for the second half, when it was really needed.
News & Notes
CB Nathan Vasher (groin) missed his second straight game and could miss two more before returning. ... OT John Tait did not play because of a high ankle sprain. ... Tillman was back after missing one week (ankle) and forced two fumbles, both of which were recovered by the Bears to stop Packers scoring threats. ... LB Lance Briggs led all players with 16 tackles after missing a week with a hamstring injury. ... Griese completed 15 of 25 passes for 214 yards and a passer rating of 97.8. He threw two touchdown passes and was intercepted once.