TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- Call them lucky if you dare. Just don't
forget to say the Chicago Bears also are in first place.
"I don't feel like we're a charmed team in the least," coach
Dick Jauron said Sunday after another thrilling finish left his
team alone atop the NFC Central standings. "Our guys work awful
hard. That's why we're 7-2."
Jim Miller threw three touchdown passes to Marty Booker and the
Bears held on to beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27-24 when Martin
Gramatica's 48-yard field goal bounced off the right upright as
The Bears have won twice in overtime this season after wiping
out double-digit deficits in the closing minutes of regulation.
This time, they nearly let an 11-point lead slip away in the final
Tampa Bay pulled within three when Brad Johnson scored on a
quarterback sneak and tossed a 2-point conversion pass to Mike
Alstott with 2:29 to go.
What got into the Bears' passing game today?
The Bears realized they couldn't run the ball effectively against the Bucs and saw they could take advantage of some things deep -- and they did just that.
Chicago took what the defense gave them, which was the deep pass. Quarterback Jim Miller and wide receiver Marty Booker did a tremendous job. They adjusted to what the Bucs' D gave them, took advantage of it and made some big plays.
ESPN.com's Vinny Cerrato was director of player personnel for the Redskins and 49ers.
Johnson, who completed 40 of 56 passes for 399 yards, threw an
interception following a Chicago punt, then got one more chance
when the Bears were unable to run out the clock.
"I was going to take a knee four times and turn the game over
to our defense. I felt good doing that," Jauron said. "It was
awfully close, but it worked out."
Warrick Dunn got out of bounds on two receptions as Tampa Bay
(4-5) moved into Bears territory. A 15-yard personal foul penalty
against Chicago's R.W. McQuarters pushed the Bucs into field goal
Gramatica came on with 6 seconds remaining, but missed.
"There's nothing worse for a kicker than your whole team
depending on you, and you just don't come through for them,"
"There's no excuse. I just didn't make the field goal. ... It
was going straight at the upright. I was just hoping it would drift
a little bit."
The victory, coupled with Green Bay's 23-20 loss to Atlanta,
gave the Bears sole possession of first place with their best
record after nine games since 1991.
It was the fourth straight game that Chicago's fate wasn't
determined until the final minute.
The Bears beat San Francisco and Cleveland after improbable
comebacks forced those games into overtime. They saw a six-game
winning streak end last week when a potential game-tying drive fell
15 yards short of the end zone against Green Bay.
"It's a tremendous feeling to have a win like this after a
demoralizing loss," Miller said. "Hopefully, we'll get a little
of that swagger back."
Booker caught seven passes for 165 yards, scoring on receptions
of 28, 44 and 66 yards. Paul Edinger kicked second-half field goals
of 26 and 40 yards, the latter putting the Bears up 27-16 after the
Bucs turned the ball over on downs at their 30.
Miller completed 14 of 25 passes for 228 yards. He was sacked
three times, and his only interception didn't hurt the Bears
because Dunn fumbled two plays later at the Chicago 25.
The Bucs outgained the Bears 234-101 in the first half, but led
only 9-7 because of an inability to finish drives. Four trips
inside Chicago's 20 produced three field goals by Gramatica, from
25, 38 and 26 yards.
Chicago had gone 19 quarters without an offensive touchdown
against Tampa Bay when Miller threw his 28-yard scoring pass to
Booker midway through the second quarter.
The offense had last reached the end zone against the Bucs
during the second quarter of a 31-17 loss on Nov. 29, 1998.
Miller found Booker racing up the left sideline ahead of
cornerback Ronde Barber for Chicago's next score. Barber stopped
running for an instant, enabling the receiver to get wide open on
the 44-yard play.
Booker's 66-yard TD and Edinger's first field goal, set up by
Alstott's fumble at the Tampa Bay 41, increased the Bears' lead to
"They're living right, I guess," said Bucs safety John Lynch.
"But truth be told, they're just playing good football. They're a
team who never thinks they're out of a game."
Tampa Bay began its comeback when Alstott scored on a 1-yard run
early in the fourth quarter.
Keyshawn Johnson finished with a career-high 12 receptions for
89 yards for Tampa Bay. Dunn had 12 catches for 138 yards.
Chicago won in Tampa for the first time since 1995. The
Bears have won two straight in the series after dropping six in a
row ... Bucs punt returner Karl Williams left the game with a right
hip injury in the second quarter and did not return ... The Bears
limited the Bucs to 19 yards rushing on 15 attempts.
The Steelers kicker, an Ontario native who played at Bowling Green, becomes an American citizen.
The Saints will still likely try to sign Drew Brees to an extension in order to minimize their salary-cap hit.
Michael Wilbon thinks the Patriots should be viewed as the favorites to win the Super Bowl next season.
The Around the Horn panel debates if Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville should be facing similar scrutiny for his postgame presser to what Cam Newton experienced following the Super Bowl.
Andy Dalton still hasn't thrown a football since breaking his thumb back in mid-December, but is looking forward to offseason work.
A year ago, general manager Mike Maccagnan walked into a team with a ton of money to spend. This year, he'll have to make cuts and operate on a budget.