The Bears have done a lot of things to help themselves to the best record in the NFC. Now they have opponents finding unlikely ways to help them too.
Sunday it was two-time Pro Bowl kicker Jason Hanson missing three field goals in one game for the first time since 1994, the last from 40 yards in the closing seconds to allow the Bears to escape with a 13-10 victory over the Detroit Lions.
Martin Gramatica hitting the right upright on a try for a tying field goal in the Bears' 27-24 victory over Tampa Bay.
The Lions drove from their 30 to the Bears' 21 in less than two minutes and had Hanson lined up with 24 seconds left to send the game into overtime. But a high snap and wide kick left the Bears with a victory in their eighth game decided by eight or fewer points this year.
"We will take it," said quarterback Jim Miller, who completed 17-of-34 passes for 124 yards.
"It was not pretty. I'll be the first to admit that, and I think the guys in the locker room would admit it.
"We did get a lucky bounce today, but for the most part we are making those things happen."
The outcome before a Soldier Field crowd of 63,797 gave the Bears their highest season win total since 1995 and their best start, at 9-2, since 1991. It also assured them of going to Lambeau Field on Sunday to face the Green Bay Packers with a chance to virtually lock up a playoff spot and possibly the NFC Central title.
The Packers (7-3) play Monday night at Jacksonville. If the Packers lose, the door is open wider than ever for a Bears team that has become proficient at winning when it does not play its best.
"It definitely wasn't our best game on offense, defense or special teams," said coach Dick Jauron. "They're a good team, and we found a way to win it, and at this point that's all we care about."
The Bears were outgained for the eighth time in 11 games this season. They occasionally outgoofed Detroit and admitted that they came out a little flat against the winless Lions (0-11). But they rallied with 10 straight points in the fourth quarter, with backup running back Leon Johnson scoring the Bears' only touchdown for the second week in a row .
The game generally belonged to Detroit for much of the first three quarters. The Lions scored first late in the first quarter on a 3-yard run by James Stewart. They led 7-3 at halftime after Paul Edinger converted a 46-yard field goal and pushed the lead to 10-3 when Hanson hit his only field goal, from 36 yards, midway through the third quarter.
But the Bears had decided at halftime to continue doing precisely what they had planned to do to the Lions, but this time without mistakes.
The defense, which allowed 201 yards in the first half, permitted the Lions only 94 in the second.
The Bears sacked Detroit quarterback Charlie Batch once in the first half. They sacked Lions quarterbacks four times after intermission, including a safety blitz on which Mike Brown flattened Batch, separating Batch's shoulder and ending his season.
The offense, which managed only 232 yards for the game, hunkered down and started beating on the Lions in the fourth quarter. The winning touchdown came on a 14-play drive that accounted for 55 of the Bears' total yards and included 10 runs against a strong Detroit defensive line.
"If anybody hasn't noticed it, that's our game plan every week," said center Olin Kreutz. "We're going to come out, and if we win, we're going to win ugly. We're not going to blow teams out of the water unless we connect on all our long balls. But we're going to pound them, pound them, pound them, and our defense always gives us a chance to win."
For all of their soggy play early and mistakes--receivers dropped a half-dozen Miller passes and Lions quarterbacks missed several wide-open receivers--the Bears arguably were closer to blowing out the Lions than they were to losing.
Rookie wide receiver David Terrell dropped a certain touchdown pass with no defender within 10 yards. Brown, who collected two sacks and recovered a fumble he caused, also let an interception go through his hands with an open field in front of him. Cornerback R.W. McQuarters appeared to intercept another deflected pass and return it for a touchdown, only to have officials rule that the ball had touched the grass as McQuarters was picking it off.
But if the Bears were good enough to win this game, they know they will not be as fortunate if they play the same way against Green Bay. The Packers were the opponent that followed the overtime wins against San Francisco and Cleveland, and the Packers took full advantage of every Bears mistake in a 20-12 win at Soldier Field.
"We can't do this every week," said linebacker Rosevelt Colvin. "We know we can't. We got the win, and that's the most important thing. We are going back to watch film and get ready for Green Bay."
BEARS 13, LIONS 10