Bears' win isn't a knockout

Tribune staff reporter

The engaging and at times entertaining repartee between cruiserweight members of the Bears and Atlanta Falcons spilled onto the playing field Sunday.

The contest went the distance in front of 62,855 ringsiders at Soldier Field—the Bears winning on points, 30-24.

Physically and esthetically, it was an ugly win for the Bears (8-1), who suffered injuries to quarterback Jim Harbaugh (bruised shoulder) and running back Neal Anderson (pulled left hamstring).

"It is just bruised in the front and bruised in the back-the sternum and the back of the neck," said Harbaugh. "They had pictures (X-rays) taken, and it doesn't look like it is separated.

"I hurt it the first time on the sack (by linebacker Jessie Tuggle), early in the fourth quarter, on the back of my neck. Then the next one was when I ran out of bounds and got hit (by safety Scott Case). I hurt the front of the shoulder. But I think it is just going to be sore for awhile."

Coach Jerry Glanville's Falcons (3-6) endured personal indignities as well as their 15th straight road loss.

The wagging tongues of Bears cornerback Lemuel Stinson and Atlanta's Deion Sanders and Andre Rison hyped the main event all week. Stinson intercepted two Chris Miller passes as the Bears made a 17-3 halftime lead and 24-3 third-quarter advantage hold up for their fifth straight victory.

"You set a goal and try to go to it," said Stinson. "I accomplished my goals today. Atlanta is in our past right now."

The Bears' next three opponents-Denver, Minnesota and Detroit-each have a 3-6 record. Will the NFC Central leaders, now 4½ games ahead of second-place Tampa Bay, need similar pregame histrionics to fire them up?

"I don't think we need anything to motivate ourselves this year," said Bears guard Tom Thayer. "This year the bottom line is to win and look better than we did last year."

Harbaugh completed 14 of 28 passes for 195 yards and one touchdown before bowing out with the shoulder injury that appears to leave him questionable next Sunday at Denver. Tomczak, greeted by a chorus of boos, stepped in and was 0 for 5 with one interception.

Anderson, limited to 22 yards on 14 carries, said he thought it was "stupid" of the fans to boo Tomczak.

"It is easy for the fans not to see what is happening because Mike doesn't operate under the same conditions as the other guy—he was in an all-out blitz," said coach Mike Ditka.

When Stinson wasn't stealing the spotlight on defense, defensive end Richard Dent was enjoying one of the best games of his career, notching two sacks, recovering a fumble and deflecting two passes.

Sloppy special teams play detracted from the Bears' triumph.

"We really have to go to work on that," said Ditka.

The Falcons took a 3-0 lead on a 36-yard field goal by Greg Davis in the first quarter following a fumbled exchange between Harbaugh and Anderson.

The Bears matched that score with a 21-yard Kevin Butler field goal.

Anderson sprang 8 yards to the right corner of the south end zone for a TD with 4:12 left in the half to put the Bears on top 10-3. The 55-yard drive featured a 14-yard Harbaugh-to-Jim Thornton pass, a 9-yard pass to Ron Morris and a 16-yard run by Harbaugh, who led the team in rushing with 47 yards.

The Bears eased into a comfortable 17-3 advantage with 55 seconds left in the half when Harbaugh lofted an 8-yard pass to Wendell Davis, who made an outstretched grab past cornerback Charles Dimry. Harbaugh hooked up on a 28-yard pass to Davis earlier in the drive.

"We got to the goal line, and they were in press coverage," explained Harbaugh. "I audibled a little fade route to Wendell. It is something we worked on all year and we never run it."

Stinson's one-handed interception of a pass intended for Michael Haynes started the Bears on that march.

"Defensively, I guess Stinson backed it up to a degree," said Ditka. "I hate to see people talk. I think it is foolish because all you do is put a bigger burden on yourself. The game is hard enough to play. But he made two key plays for us."

The Bears, who have outscored their opponents 150-49 in the first half this season, went on top 24-3 early in the third quarter when Brad Muster popped in from a yard out for the score. A 51-yard pass from Harbaugh to Davis preceded the Muster TD, which seemed to secure the win.

But the Falcons made it interesting, starting a comeback bid with a 5-yard pass from Miller to Tracy Johnson to make it 24-10 with 4:18 left in the third quarter.

The Bears' Maury Buford had a punt blocked by Case and recovered by Bobby Butler at the Atlanta 12 to set up Steve Broussard's 1-yard TD run with 4:17 to go in the fourth quarter.

The Bears stiff-armed the Falcons out of reach again when Dent tipped a Miller pass. Vestee Jackson intercepted it and returned it 45 yards for a touchdown. Kevin Butler's extra point attempt was aborted when long snapper Jerry Fontenot's offering was high and off the hands of holder Tomczak.

The Falcons made one last stand following a controversial interference call on David Tate set them up on the 10 in the final seconds. From there, Miller passed 10 yards to Rison with 13 seconds left to make it 30-24.

"I question the last interference call. It was a very silly call, compared to a couple of other ones that could have been interference calls earlier in the game," said Ditka.

It wasn't the only thing that displeased the coach. "We won, that's about all you can say," Ditka said. "The first half was ours, and the second half was really theirs. We really didn't do well on offense against the blitz situation.

"We didn't handle it as well as we have to. So that has to be a primary concern for us this week in getting ready for that type of defense, when they put eight men or nine people up front."

Tomczak entered the game with 8:29 left and the Bears leading 24-10 after Harbaugh was injured.

Following two running plays for a 1-yard gain, Tomczak's first pass was intercepted by Case.

"The interception, to me, was the best thing that could have happened because of the way we were punting the ball. I don't feel bad about that at all," said Ditka.

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