Mike Ditka didn't bring the 1985 Bears defense with him down the red carpet to midfield at halftime Monday night.

Because of the 2013 offense, he didn't have to.

Backup quarterback Josh McCown accounted for five touchdowns, three before the Bears retired their iconic coach's jersey No. 89 at intermission, and their beleaguered defense benefited from playing with the lead in a 45-28 victory over the Cowboys at frigid Soldier Field.

"Some nights it comes together for you, and you're able to execute," McCown said. "There's a standard that we hold ourselves to that we're chasing all the time ... and I think we're getting closer to that."

The Bears shocked their postseason hopes back to life after two straight road losses against last-place teams. They pulled into a first-place tie with the Lions at 7-6 with three games to play and remained a half-game ahead of the lurking Packers.

The Bears still have a thin margin for error because the Lions own the head-to-head tiebreaker by virtue of their season series sweep.

In order to win the NFC North — their realistic path to the playoffs — they must finish ahead of the Lions in the standings and outlast the Packers, who could get quarterback Aaron Rodgers back from a broken collarbone Sunday.

But that's getting ahead of ourselves. This night alone was worth savoring by the Bears supporters in a crowd of 56,644 that braved a game-time temperature of 8 degrees and a minus-9 wind chill.

The key, perhaps, was that the Bears finally found an opponent with a defense worse than theirs.

The Cowboys entered Week 14 giving up an NFL-worst 422 yards per game, and the Bears exploited their deficiencies — poor tackling, lack of a pass rush and an inability to win blocks — to score on each of the eight possessions on which they tried to advance the ball. Their empty ninth possession was a kneel down to burn the final 6 seconds.

The Bears gained a season-high 490 total yards and possessed the ball for more than 13 minutes longer than the Cowboys.

"When you envision your offense working the way it's supposed to, we went out there today and we executed," left tackle Jermon Bushrod said. "You don't get much better than that."

McCown was the star. For all of the confidence he has inspired while filling in for injured quarterback Jay Cutler in five starts this season, his performance Monday night stands out.

He completed 27 of 36 passes for 348 yards, four touchdowns and a career-high passer rating of 141.9. He also ran for 17 yards and a touchdown. McCown generally was accurate in tight windows, extended plays with his legs and threw in rhythm.

"I thought he played an excellent game," coach Marc Trestman said. "I think it all starts with our offensive line. They kept him clean."

The many offensive highlights were chicken soup for the souls in the home crowd.

McCown helicoptered into the end zone on a 7-yard touchdown scramble in the second quarter, invigorating his teammates with a gutsy dive.

Then, with 10 seconds left in the first half and no timeouts from the Cowboys' 25-yard line, McCown climbed the pocket and lofted a perfectly-placed, high-arcing throw to the back right pylon. Receiver Alshon Jeffery leaped and snatched the ball at its highest point over cornerback B.W. Webb and got both feet inbounds.

It gave the Bears a 24-14 lead that set the tone for the jubilant halftime ceremony. Several members of the '85 Bears defense congratulated Ditka via recorded videoboard messages. Ditka concluded his speech by pumping his fist and yelling, "Go Bears!"

They followed Da Coach's orders. McCown completed second-half touchdowns to running backs Matt Forte and Michael Bush, enabling the Bears to pull away. The Cowboys helped the cause by dropping a pair of potential interceptions.

Meanwhile, the Bears defense enjoyed a scoreboard cushion that absorbed DeMarco Murray's 146 rushing yards on 18 carries. He surpassed 100 yards on his first carry of the second half, as the Bears tied the NFL record of allowing a 100-yard rusher in six consecutive games, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

But like the bitter cold during an uplifting victory, that ultimately didn't matter.

"We needed this, especially the way our division was looking," Bushrod said. "We needed to win, and we've just got to carry it over."

rcampbell@tribune.com

Twitter @Rich_Campbell