The Bears left Sunday's game against Washington with a 20-15 victory that ended the Redskins' playoff plans and improved their own. But besides the win, they also wanted to make the next statement in their playoff season. In the fourth quarter, they made it.
On offense, they drove 78 yards in 15 plays and took more than seven minutes doing it. Along the way they converted a fourth-and-1 in Washington territory.
They finished the drive on special teams, with a fake field goal on which punter Brad Maynard rolled to his right and threw to linebacker Brian Urlacher for a 27-yard touchdown that provided the winning points.
The defense made a game-saving stand late in the fourth quarter, Washington running three plays from the Bears' 3 and coming away with nothing. After Maynard ran out of the end zone intentionally to take a safety, special teams finished the statement by forcing a fumble on Maynard's free kick.
The Redskins (6-8) controlled the ball nearly 30 of the first 45 minutes, only to have the Bears take over down the stretch with 10 fourth-quarter points and control of the ball nearly 11 of the final 15 minutes.
With the win, the Bears (11-3) maintained their one-game lead over Green Bay in the NFC Central.
"It's another game that builds character for this team," said linebacker Warrick Holdman. "We had to win this game. Washington knew this was their last stand as far as getting in the playoffs and they came out playing hard. It was a character-building game."
It also was a game that was a step toward putting a playoff edge on their game even when they didn't play their best. They fell behind in the first and third quarters and each time staged some sort of comeback against a team competing for its playoff life.
"We're now trying to get into a playoff atmosphere, a playoff mode," said defensive end Bryan Robinson. "Today was a playoff atmosphere for us, especially when Washington got up."
The Bears were outgained 293-237, the sixth time in the last seven games and 10th time this season they have been outgained. And for the fourth time in the last five games, the offense managed just one touchdown.
But the defense sacked Washington quarterback Tony Banks six times, second only to the seven sacks the Bears posted against Atlanta. And the offense avoided mistakes and gradually wore down a second straight opponent with fourth-quarter power.
"We didn't play our best game, on the road, and yet we were able to win the game, and that's the sign of a good team," said safety Mike Brown. "We make plays when we need to."
It was not an artistic success, just a success. Before a crowd of 78,884, the Bears allowed Washington to score on three 12-play drives and go 11 plays before making the stops inside their own 5-yard line.
The Bears scored first with a 39-yard Paul Edinger field goal after a sack and fumble recovery on Washington's opening possession. Then Washington, with Stephen Davis running the ball on five of the last six plays and catching a pass on the other, pushed the Bears steadily backward until Davis ran in virtually untouched from 3 yards out with 4:39 remaining in the first quarter.
The Bears regained the lead on the first play of the second quarter. From the Washington 32, Leon Johnson started around right end, cut back behind blocks from center Olin Kreutz and tackle James Williams and picked his way through the Redskins to score the offense's one touchdown of the day.
Washington tied the score 10-10 on the next possession with another 12-play drive that ended with a 34-yard field goal by Brett Conway. The kicker put the Redskins ahead 13-10 in the third quarter with a 26-yard field goal.
The Bears then swung the game their way as the third quarter wound down. As they did in taking the measure of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week, they began pounding the ball with running plays by Anthony Thomas. They moved from their 22-yard line to their 41, where on fourth-and-1 quarterback Jim Miller followed Kreutz for 2 yards to sustain the drive.
"We've been bad for so long, why not go ahead and make something happen?" Miller said.
The Bears ran the ball on five of the next six plays to reach the Washington 27, where the drive stalled. With Urlacher in on the field-goal unit, holder and punter Brad Maynard took the snap, rolled to his right and threw to a wide-open Urlacher at the Washington 13. Urlacher beat safety David Terrell into the end zone to put the Bears ahead for good at 17-13 with 5:05 gone in the fourth quarter.
Edinger scored the Bears' final points with a 37-yard field goal. Then the defense survived a final Redskins push, halting an 11-play drive at the Bears' 3 with two Banks incompletions.
"We just take care of our business," said linebacker Rosevelt Colvin. "Each week we just try to build by winning as many games as we can and then worry about the playoffs when they get here.
"Now we've got to focus on Detroit. We have two games left and we just need to take each of those one at a time."