Danieal Manning saw the opening and made his move, setting the tone for a win the Chicago Bears desperately needed. It's too early to say if he also sparked a playoff push in the process.
Manning started a strong defensive effort with an early interception, Desmond Clark and Greg Olsen caught touchdown passes, and the Bears rolled to a 23-10 victory over the reeling Jacksonville Jaguars on a bone-chilling Sunday afternoon.
"We can finish up 10-6," head coach Lovie Smith said. "Most teams that finish up 10-6 end up going to the playoffs. We're just looking straight ahead."
Robbie Gould kicked three field goals, and the Bears (7-6) rebounded from a 34-14 loss at Minnesota last week that left them a game behind the Vikings in the NFC North and needing help. They got some from the Jaguars (4-9), who have dropped four in a row and six of seven.
The Bears could have used some help from Detroit, but Minnesota beat the Lions and clinched a potential tiebreaker with the Bears. So Chicago needs to finish with a better record to win the division.
But defensive end Alex Brown couldn't help but look up at the scoreboard to see what Minnesota was doing.
"You look at it, but you've got to take care of your part," he said. "That's it. Whatever happens in the Minnesota game is going to happen whether you look at it or not. It's still going to happen. We've got to do our part, and that's winning."
With the game-time temperature at 18 degrees, Manning warmed up the crowd when he picked off a pass intended for Jerry Porter on the third play from scrimmage. He returned it 42 yards to the 5 before fumbling it out of bounds. That set up Clark's 2-yard touchdown catch and Olsen added an acrobatic 22-yard TD reception near the end of the first half, when he reached across the goal line to make it 20-3.
"We were in a zone with pressure defense and disguised it like it was man-to-man coverage," said Manning, who also had a 52-yard kickoff return. "I was just hovering over my guy and I saw him, and I jumped in the way and he threw it right to me."
It was a familiar scenario for the Jaguars.
"The last few weeks it has been our theme starting games, and we got to be better than that," quarterback David Garrard said. "I got to be better than that. You continue to start behind and just putting a lot of pressure on your team."
Orton, meanwhile, still hasn't returned to the form he showed before being carted off the field with a sprained ankle against Detroit last month, and another injury on Sunday gave him a big blood stain on his left leg. Orton couldn't – or wouldn't – say how it happened, but he was steady enough after a miserable performance against Minnesota.
He finished 20-of-34 for 219 yards with two touchdowns and an interception after throwing three picks last week.
"I thought we came out and played really well in the first half, established the run, which when you get into December at Soldier Field you've got to do," Orton said. "And we made enough plays in the passing game."
Clark caught just two passes for 8 yards, but the touchdown was his first this season. Olsen, meanwhile, had three receptions for 52 yards, including that nifty TD with 18 seconds left in the first half. He got hit by the Jaguars' Reggie Nelson as he made the catch in front of the goal line and reached forward as his knee hit the ground, putting the game out of reach.
It was another rough day for the Jaguars, who lost Porter to a groin injury in the fourth quarter.
Fred Taylor ran for 53 yards and passed O.J. Simpson and Corey Dillon to move into 16th place on the NFL's career list. Maurice Jones-Drew managed 55 yards while catching seven passes for 47 yards and a touchdown, and Garrard struggled.
He left his receivers exposed for big hits with soft passes and wound up 19-of-38 for 178 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He got sacked three times, giving him 36 on the season, and a team that made the playoffs last season got taken down again.
"No one in here considers themselves losers," Taylor said.
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