Bears' defense throttles high-powered Carolina attack

CHICAGO (AP) -- Nathan Vasher didn't set a record this time -- he
set the tone.

One week after returning a missed field goal a record 108 yards,
Vasher intercepted two passes, and the North-leading Bears stamped
themselves as a contender in the NFC on Sunday with a 13-3 victory
over the Carolina Panthers, Chicago's sixth straight win.

"I'm playing as well as anybody," Vasher said. "Our defense
is playing as good as -- if not better -- than anybody."

The NFC South-leading Panthers (7-3) saw their six-game win
streak end. After scoring at least 20 points in every game, they
managed 238 yards against the NFL's No. 1 defense, and quarterback
Jake Delhomme was sacked eight times.

Vasher's first pick led to a 3-yard touchdown reception for
former Panther Muhsin Muhammad, and the second resulted in a
33-yard field goal by Robbie Gould in the first quarter. The
second-year pro has six interceptions.

Adewale Ogunleye tied a career-high with three sacks, and Alex Brown added two and forced two fumbles for the Bears (7-3).

Muhammad had six receptions for 49 yards and a touchdown against
his former team but dropped several passes. Justin Gage caught
seven balls for 81 yards.

Thomas Jones ran for 87 yards on 25 attempts after missing last
week's 17-9 victory over San Francisco with sore ribs. Kyle Orton
was 15-of-26 for 136 yards, a touchdown and interception.

Fred Miller started at right tackle for the Bears after missing
last week's game with a broken jaw -- the result of a punch to the
face from center Olin Kreutz during an altercation at an FBI
shooting range in the Chicago area on Nov. 7. The FBI launched an
internal investigation into the incident.

"We've already put it behind us, you know," said Miller, whose
jaw was starting to swell. "You guys still want to write about it
and care about it. We had to go our there and win a ball game, no
matter what. This is what we need to do to ultimately achieve goals
of where we want to go."

Kreutz said he and Miller are still embarrassed and added
there's "not a right or wrong guy in that whole situation. We're
just both idiots."

Carolina's Steve Smith, the NFL's leader with 937 yards
receiving entering the game, caught 14 passes for 169 yards. But
others struggled: Delhomme was 22-of-38 for 235 yards and two
interceptions, and the Panthers managed only 55 yards rushing.

"Certainly they are good; there's no doubt," Delhomme said.
"We put ourselves in a hole early. I had a couple picks early on,
we went down 10-0. We just never got anything going."

None of the Bears' previous five wins were against teams with
winning records, and the only blowout was a 28-3 victory over
Minnesota on Oct. 16.

One week after winds whipped through Soldier Field at up to 47
mph, wreaking havoc on the passing and kicking games, there was
just a light breeze. Yet, the Panthers turned it over on their
first possession.

On third down, Vasher intercepted Delhomme at the Chicago 46 and
was knocked out of bounds at the 8. After having a pass batted at
the line on second down, Orton found Muhammad about a step behind
the goal line for a 3-yard touchdown and 7-0 lead.

Vasher's second interception came with about 6:40 left in the
quarter; this time, he intercepted Delhomme at the 40 and returned
it to the 18.

"There is no need to be all out of whack when you are trying to
play the ball," Vasher said. "I'm doing what the coaching staff
asks me to do, I'm having the right progressions and the right
reads. It just looks easy, I guess. Football is one of those things
either you can or you can't. I obviously can."

At the moment, the Bears are playing like a team that can.

Free safety Chris Harris showed it early in the fourth quarter
when he sprinted to his left, lunged, and broke up a pass intended
for Ricky Proehl in the end zone on third down. The Panthers
settled for a field goal.

Ogunleye and Alex Brown showed it by breaking through the line.

"The thing about Alex is his total might not be (high), but he
causes a lot of holding penalties," strong safety Mike Brown said
of Alex Brown, who has three sacks. "He causes a lot of pressure.
It good to see him get the sacks off it."

Game notes
Carolina lost starting middle linebacker Dan Morgan to a
sprained left ankle about five minutes into the game. Morgan, the
team leader with 74 tackles, was helped off the field after a run
by the Bears' Thomas Jones. ... Several Panthers, including Smith,
hugged Muhammad after the game and posed for pictures. ... After
fumbling three punts against San Francisco, the Bears' Bobby Wade
returned three for three yards.

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