Bears, Barely (Again)

TAMPA, Fla. - Earlier this season the Bears specialized in miracle comeback victories. Sunday in beating Tampa Bay 27-24, they found a way to barely hang on to victory and make that look like a miracle. More pure fantasy from a 7-2 team now back atop the NFC Central Division.

``This is the stuff that you make up when you're a little kid playing in the backyard all by yourself,'' Bears safety Tony Parrish said. ``This stuff right here, it's amazing.''

Martin Gramatica's 48-yard field goal struck high on the right upright and bounced away no good to the right, letting the Bears escape with a win they seemed to have locked up numerous times in the fourth quarter.

``Somebody around here has got a rabbit foot in their back pocket and they ain't telling nobody,'' Bears tackle James ``Big Cat'' Williams said. ``But hold on to it because we've got a long way to go.''

Three touchdown catches by Marty Booker on plays of 28, 44 and 66 yards and Paul Edinger field goals of 26 and 40 yards seemed enough for the win, yet there was Gramatica missing for the first time this year outside 40 yards. It was the last in a series of bizarre plays, which led to the Bears nearly blowing a 27-16 lead in the game's final 6 1/2 minutes.

First the Bears' defense got burned for a 12-play, 77-yard drive ending in quarterback Brad Johnson's 1-yard quarterback sneak with 2:29 remaining, and a rifle-like two-point conversion pass from Johnson over the middle to Mike Alstott.

The Bucs even got the ball back without an onside kick after the Bears went three-and-out and punted with two minutes remaining. But Parrish's interception while playing zone in the middle of the field, and his return to the Bucs' 26 seemed to seal the verdict. When Bears running back Anthony Thomas fumbled the first handoff from quarterback Jim Miller and recovered, it got Bears coach Dick Jauron running scared.

``It was normally a toss play but we wanted to hand it off to secure the ball and that's not what happened, obviously,'' Miller said. Jauron then wanted Miller to fall on the ball three more times even if it meant giving the Bucs a chance to win with a few seconds remaining.

``I was hoping that we'd get a first down (and kill the clock),'' Jauron said. ``But after the first play I said `we'll give them the ball with 18 seconds left -- that's what we'll do.' It was my decision.

``I wasn't going to long snap or punt it. I was going to give them the ball right there and let our defense play.'' Miller fell on the ball three straight times starting with 1:47 left and the Bears refused to risk trying a field goal or punt with the ball at the Bucs' 31. The clock stopped with change of possession and 18 seconds remaining. And even then the Bucs needed one more break to get a last chance at the win.

An 8-yard pass to Warrick Dunn went out of bounds with six seconds left and seemed to set Tampa Bay up for one Hail Mary pass try from the Bears' 46. However, officials called cornerback R.W. McQuarters for hitting Dunn out of bounds and added 15 more yards to put Gramatica in position for a tying field goal.

``It was one of those close calls, but it was definitely not unnecessary roughness,'' McQuarters said. ``He was still in. I've got to keep him in bounds.''

The wild finish overshadowed a game where the Bears' deep passing attack re-emerged. Miller completed 14-of-25 for 228 yards and half his completions went to Booker for 165 yards -- the first 100-yard receiving game by a Bear this year.

The Bears' offense ended 19 touchdown-free quarters against the Bucs when Miller hit Booker over the middle for a 28-yard TD. The Bears still went into the locker room down 9-7 after Gramatica field goals of 25, 38 and 28 yards.

Then Miller found Booker twice in the third quarter on play-action deep passes for 44 yards behind cornerback Ronde Barber. ``Teams are loading up eight guys in the box on defense,'' Miller said. ``That play-action everybody bit up. Ronde Barber didn't what know what to do. He couldn't cover Marty. Marty is just way too fast.

``These guys (Tampa) were screwed up from the get-go. I just didn't want to miss him. He was so wide open.''

The same was true on the next Bears possession when Miller found Booker for 66 yards and a TD behind cornerback Brian Kelly. When Edinger added a 26-yard field goal following Phillip Daniels' recovery of a fumble forced by Brian Urlacher, the Bears led 24-9 and had complete control.

``We just wanted to stretch things. We knew some things would be there,'' Booker said. Bucs coaches also proved they could make some bizarre decisions in the fourth quarter after Alstott's 1-yard TD run made the score 24-16. On fourth-and-6 from the Bucs' 25 with 9:37 left, punter Mark Royals faked the punt and passed for 5 yards to Aaron Stecker. The change of possession gave the Bears the ball for an Edinger 40-yard field goal and 27-16 lead. Jauron recalled the Bucs running a fake against them last year in Chicago and warned his defense prior to the play.

``They've done it to us before, so it wasn't totally unexpected,'' Jauron said. ``A fake generally works when you least expect it. And you don't expect it at that time of the game. That's why they caught us a year ago with it.'' The Bears didn't look so intuitive at game's end trying to kill the clock. Nevertheless, they escaped with their first win ever in Raymond James Stadium, dropping Tampa Bay to 4-5 and putting themselves back into first alone after the Packers' 23-20 loss to Atlanta. Next is a game Sunday night at the Metrodome with Minnesota.

``We're 7-2, we got a long way to go. Hell, nobody thought we'd be here,'' Williams said. Certainly nobody could have predicted they'd be at 7-2 the way they've done it, either.

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