TORONTO — The Bears hit the halfway point of the season Sunday and they're not looking back, not even for a brief glance.
They made enough plays in front of a pro-Bears crowd of 50,746 at the Rogers Centre to stave off the winless Bills 22-19. Now, Lovie Smith's team is in position to make the run the coach has been talking about.
In order to accomplish that, the Bears will need all-around improvement. In this instance, a more balanced offensive game plan and a better-protected Jay Cutler, coupled with an opportunistic defense and reliable special teams, helped the Bears improve to 5-3.
"We're not exactly where we want to be offensively," said Cutler, who completed 17 of 30 passes for 188 yards and two touchdowns. "We're definitely getting there. The defense is keeping us alive, getting turnovers, getting us good field position. As long as we keep coming along and catch up to the defense, I think we're going to be a real good team by December."
With just about everyone but team matriarch Virginia McCaskey weighing in on the need for offensive coordinator Mike Martz to dust off the running plays in his high-volume playbook, the Bears were as balanced as they've been since the season-opening victory over the Lions. There were 31 rushes and 30 passes.
Matt Forte (14 carries, 49 yards) and Chester Taylor (10 carries, 13 yards) weren't special against a run defense that was on pace to be the NFL's worst in three decades. But with balance came success on third down — the Bears converted 7 of 12 — and they had 14- and 13-play drives.
The newest combination on the offensive line, with Roberto Garza at right guard, was the best the Bears have had this season. Cutler was sacked only once, and on several occasions he had time to make key completions downfield. He also ran for 39 yards.
The Bears led 7-0 after a 4-yard touchdown pass from Cutler to Greg Olsen in the second quarter. After Robbie Gould missed a 42-yard field goal, the Bills (0-8) took advantage of a late hit by cornerback Charles Tillman on a drive capped by Ryan Fitzpatrick's 14-yard TD pass to Roscoe Parrish to draw even at halftime.
Tillman's strip of running back Fred Jackson and fumble recovery early in the third quarter led to Taylor's 1-yard touchdown run, a play that ended the Bears' scoreless drought for the season in the third quarter at 113 minutes, 42 seconds. It also was the first time the Bears have scored on a play from the 1 in 11 tries this season.
"(Center Olin Kreutz) brought to my attention we were 0-for-10 on the goal line," Taylor said. "I didn't know anything about it. That's kind of bad."
But it's something the Bears worked on with the extra week of preparation. If they can build on just their improvements on third down and in the red zone coming out of this game, the time off will have been well spent.
The secondary didn't have answers for wide receiver Steve Johnson, who had 11 receptions for 145 yards. His 45-yard catch and run to the Bears' 4 set up Jackson's 4-yard touchdown run, but Israel Idonije blocked Rian Lindell's extra point, a key play moving forward.
When Cutler fumbled after being sacked by Spencer Johnson, Buffalo mounted a scoring drive capped by Corey McIntyre's 1-yard run, but they missed the two-point conversion.
Things started to look bleak when the Bears went three-and-punt, but Tim Jennings picked off Fitzpatrick (31 of 51, 299 yards) on the next snap, and the Bears capitalized quickly with Cutler's 2-yard touchdown pass to Earl Bennett and then a two-point conversion pass to Forte. Then, the defense, with some timely pressures mixed in, held.
There are no prizes given out for defeating a team leading the race to win the No. 1 pick in 2011 draft. But the Bears were in a position where they needed a victory in the worst way. They're moving on.
"Sometimes in the NFL winning comes easy," Kreutz said. "Sometimes you get in a stretch where winning comes hard."
They'll take it any way they can get it.