The heat, the intensity, the effort, the concentration . . . every aspect of the Bears' game was turned up to high volume Sunday.
If the Bears are to wind up better than average this season, they must play at a better-than-average tempo to even give themselves a chance to win.
That lesson may have finally registered as the Bears outmaneuvered the lowly Tampa Bay Buccaneers 20-6 to improve their record to 5-4.
These Bears are not big enough, not fast enough and not intimidating enough to simply step on the field and overpower an opponent-whether they are playing 2-7 Tampa Bay or AFC power Miami (7-2), their foe next week.
"It was a long, rough week, but all the effort and work by the players made it worth it," said coach Dave Wannstedt, whose team ended a two-game slide in front of 60,821 fans in 85-degree sunshine at Tampa Stadium.
Quarterback Steve Walsh improved his record to 4-0 as a starter, completing 19 of 32 passes for 205 yards and two touchdowns. He threw a harmless interception on a long pass at the end of the first half.
The Bears, tied with Green Bay for second place in the NFC Central behind Minnesota (7-2), rushed for 178 yards. Rookie fullback Raymont Harris picked up 79 yards on 19 carries.
"I'm not a true halfback," said the 6-foot, 225-pound Harris. "I'm halfway between a fullback and a halfback."
The success of the offense took the heat off the much-maligned defense. The Bears controlled the ball 39 minutes 28 seconds. Tampa Bay, led by rookie quarterback Trent Dilfer, held the ball only 20:32.
Two Bears-Alonzo Spellman and Vinson Smith-were among four players ejected from the game in two incidents.
"I was told that one guy was punching and one guy was kicking," said Wannstedt. "I don't know, but I was glad to see the guys with some emotion."
More importantly, the entire defense showed more fight. Ranked last in the NFL in run defense, the Bears knuckled down and held the Bucs to 38 yards on the ground.
"The press had been killing the Bears to stop the running game all week," said rookie Tampa Bay running back Errict Rhett, who was held to 20 yards on 12 carries. "I knew that and our coaches knew that. They blitzed almost every other down. They were really prepared to stop the run after last week (against Green Bay)."
The Bears got sacks from Albert Fontenot and Maurice Douglass.
"If you don't have emotion, it's not good," said linebacker Joe Cain. "I was surprised to see the guys tossed (out) so early, especially when I saw the guys they were fighting with."
Bears receiver Tom Waddle (4 catches for 49 yards) suffered a bruised knee and lacerated chin when he received a violent hit coming across the middle by Bucs free safety Thomas Everett.
"I'm not a dirty player," said Everett. "That was a clean hit. When I got up, I was waving my hands because the pass was an incompletion. I was shocked about the flag. Forget about the hit, I wanted to win."
The Bears took the opening drive 78 yards to the Tampa 1 before settling for an 18-yard Kevin Butler field goal. It was the first time the Bears had scored on the opening drive since the regular-season opener-a 21-9 victory against Tampa Bay at Soldier Field.
"Our coaches have really been stressing scoring on our first drive," said Walsh. "I believe our lack of scoring points made Coach (Wannstedt) kick the field goal."
The Bears settled for a 37-yard Butler field goal early in the second quarter to move ahead 6-0 at the end of a 12-play, 64-yard drive.
While the Bears dominated play in the first half, they led only 6-3 because Tampa Bay's Michael Husted hit on a 33-yard field goal.
"Today we came in at the half (leading) 6-3," said Wannstedt. "They had the momentum, but our players never quit. Our guys kept plugging away."
Late in the third period, Walsh directed an eight-play, 52-yard drive. With the ball on the Bucs' 1-yard line, Walsh faked a handoff to tailback Lewis Tillman, who leaped into the middle of the line. Walsh tucked the ball away, rolled to his right and tossed a pass to wide-open tight end Keith Jennings for a touchdown that put the Bears ahead 13-3.
Husted kept the Bucs in the game with a 38-yard field goal with 14:49 left in the fourth period to make it 13-6. But the Bears answered with the clincher 4 minutes later when Robert Green caught a 4-yard pass from Walsh after a 4-minute drive that covered 80 yards in seven plays.
Dilfer, the first-round pick from Fresno State, wound up completing 13 of 25 passes for 159 yards. He was intercepted once late in the game by Mark Carrier.
"There was one pass I could have picked," said Bears cornerback Donnell Woolford. "Dilfer was throwing ducks all day. I should have had three picks. For a rookie, he sure does talk a lot."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun