Bears find smoother than expected ride on road

Tuesday, November 21st 2006, 5:34 am
By: News On 6

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) Back-to-back games at the Meadowlands followed by a trip to AFC East leader New England looked like trouble for Chicago.

But the Bears beat the New York Jets 10-0 Sunday to complete a Meadowlands sweep before turning their attention to the Patriots.

They used an old formula that included key defensive plays, a sound running game, Chris Harris' recovery of a New York onside kick to start the second half, which led to a field goal, and a big touchdown by Mark Bradley. It added up to a 9-1 record for Chicago.

"We knew it would be a tough task,'' coach Lovie Smith said Monday. "We got two of the wins. Now, we're down to one team.''

A win next week and losses by Green Bay and Minnesota would give the Bears their second straight NFC North title. But they have bigger goals, starting with the conference championship. They put themselves in good position for the No. 1 seed when they beat the Giants on Nov. 12.

"Some guys can think that far ahead, but I can't,'' Smith said. "I can tell you a lot about New England.''

The Patriots snapped a two-game losing streak with a 35-0 victory at Green Bay, and Tom Brady returned to form after two difficult outings, throwing for 244 yards and four touchdowns Sunday. A week earlier, he fumbled the ball away on the final play of a three-point loss to the Jets, and that came after throwing four interceptions against Indianapolis.

"He looks like a Hall-of-Fame quarterback every time I see him,'' Smith said. "That's where he'll end up. You look at his record, it's a big challenge for our defense.''

That defense met the challenge against the Jets and delivered two key interceptions.

The first came in the second quarter, when Brian Urlacher read Chad Pennington perfectly and stepped in front of Chris Baker in the end zone. And in the third, with the ball on the Chicago 30, Alex Brown hit Pennington as he released the ball and Vasher picked off a wobbly pass.

With wide receiver Bernard Berrian out of sync, Bradley delivered a 57-yard touchdown for the Bears in the opening moments of the fourth quarter. After missing the Giants game with bruised ribs, a wide open Berrian had dropped a pass deep in Jets territory in the second quarter and did not have a reception.

Smith insisted Berrian is fine, and said the same about defensive end Adewale Ogunleye and cornerback Charles Tillman. Tillman was hit on a tackle by teammate Todd Johnson in the first quarter but finished the game, and Ogunleye had to leave the field after getting shaken up on a pass rush late in the fourth quarter.

Bradley's big play came on a short pass, when he turned and saw only Drew Coleman between him and the end zone. Bradley juked, Coleman slipped, and the receiver was on his way.

About 10 yards shy of the end zone and with a defender in somewhat close pursuit, Bradley brought back memories of former Cowboys lineman Leon Lett when he extended the ball from his body in triumph. But unlike Lett, who was stripped during Super Bowl XXVII, Bradley hung on.

"I think I learned my lesson,'' Bradley said. "After looking at it on the Jumbotron, I probably started a little too early. I apologized for that. You probably won't see that happen again.''

Bradley owes no apologies for his play the past two weeks.

After tearing the ACL in his right knee as a rookie midway through last year and sitting out six of the first eight games, he has eased whatever concerns the coaches had about his knee and ankle. Although Berrian will remain the starter, Bradley gives the Bears another viable option down the field.

He caught four passes for 79 yards against the Giants, including a 38-yarder and a 29-yard touchdown. And he followed that with four catches for 80 yards on Sunday.

"He's told us he's 100 percent and our trainers have done that, but you need to see it on the football field,'' Smith said. "The last couple weeks have proven that to us. We feel confident with him being on the field and putting him in position to make those types of plays.''