A Bears team that wasn't supposed to accomplish much won its fourth straight game Sunday at a stadium they weren't originally scheduled to play in with contributions from players who weren't supposed to be here.
Robbie Gould's 28-yard field goal with six seconds left put the frame around an imperfect 20-17 victory over New Orleans, playing its second game at LSU's Tiger Stadium after Hurricane Katrina damaged the Louisiana Superdome.
As Gould high-fived fans who probably had no idea he was working for a construction company two months ago, others chanted the name of Cedric Benson, who combined with Adrian Peterson to relieve the injured Thomas Jones with aplomb.
Ten feet away, Muhsin Muhammad pointed a finger skyward, either an acknowledgment to some higher power or a nod to the huge 22-yard pass he caught from Kyle Orton to set up Gould's heroics.
And linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer conducted an interview for two TV stations simultaneously, which seemed fitting since he was everywhere on defense.
This improbable Bears season has come to this: You can't take two steps in the postgame locker room without running into a player who contributed.
"You never know who's going to step up and make a play," linebacker Brian Urlacher said. "It seems like every week it's somebody new. We have a lot of good players on this team.
"People can call it winning ugly. I've never seen an ugly win. I've seen ugly losses, but never an ugly win. A win is a win."
Indeed, the Bears are so flush with victory that they're now in the practice of grading them. Player after player and coach after coach talked about not playing well, just in case defensive coordinator Ron Rivera's blistering halftime rebuke hadn't reminded his unit.
But the Bears' first four-game winning streak since the end of 2001their last playoff teamopened a two-game lead in the NFC North and reminded everyone of one of the oldest adages in sports.
"Good football teams find a way to win when you don't play your best ball," coach Lovie Smith said. "That's what happened."
The Bears now prepare for back-to-back home games with as much confidence as momentum, the game-winning drive absolving the sins of the offense and near second-half domination doing the same for the defense.
A three-and-out Saints possession ended when Alex Brown slowed Aaron Stecker and Lance Briggs wrapped him up for a 1-yard loss, forcing New Orleans to punt.
With 4 minutes 8 seconds left and a game mostly to forget behind him, Orton and the offense went to work. Benson burst off left end for 27 yards, then picked up a tough first down on a 2-yard gain. Peterson, who had scored a go-ahead third-quarter touchdown, ran for 6 yards.
"Our running backs are definitely the strongest part of our offense," Muhammad said. "If one guy goes down, we have another guy who can go in there. If that guy goes down, we've got another. We have essentially three starters."
They set up Ortonon third-and-5 from the Saints' 32to loft a perfect touch pass to Muhammad, who beat Mike McKenzie. Making his eighth straight start, a franchise record for rookie quarterbacks, Orton wasn't great with two interceptions, a lost fumble and a 43.3 passer rating.
"But the thing I like about Kyle is that even though he doesn't make every play, he's going to stand in there and deliver the next ball like he never knew what happened on the last play," Muhammad said.
Three rushes later, Gould drilled the game-winner after making a 35-yarder and missing a 47-yarder earlier.
Such an outcome seemed unlikely early when Stecker returned the opening kickoff 45 yards to the Saints' 48 and Antowain Smith ripped off a 42-yard run to the Bears' 3. The defense stiffened to surrender only a 22-yard John Carney field goal.
More trouble came on the Bears' first possession. Orton had a string of 62 straight passes without an interception snapped when Bobby Wade tipped one to Fred Thomas.
But on the ensuing Saints possession, Nathan Vasher stripped the ball from Stecker, and safety Chris Harris dashed 49 yards with the recovery. The fumble was upheld by video review.
Orton capped a six-play, 38-yard drive with a 4-yard touchdown bullet to Justin Gage.
New Orleans stormed back to take a 10-7 lead on a 15-yard touchdown from Aaron Brooks to Donté Sallworth. The Saints converted three third downs on the 95-yard drive, certainly raising the ire of Rivera.
Gould tied the game 10-10 as the Bears worked the two-minute offense to perfection, with Orton finding Muhammad for 33 yards on third-and-10.
Peterson's 6-yard scoring scamper capped a six-play, 94-yard drive aided by McKenzie's 28-yard pass-interference penalty on Muhammad. The play erased Josh Bullocks' interception and set up Peterson, who dashed 36 yards before his score.
Brooks' 1-yard touchdown run tied the game at 17-17 with 7:44 to go. The 11-play, 80-yard drive served as the only blemish of a second-half defensive effort that limited New Orleans to 29 rushing yards and 123 total.
And the drive just made the final-drive heroics of Benson and Muhammad and Orton and the offensive line and Gould andyou get the picturethat much sweeter.
"I wonder who's going to step up next Sunday," Urlacher said.
Should be fun to find out.
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