By Brad Biggs, Chicago Tribune reporter
6:27 AM CST, November 26, 2012
After the season, the Bears plan to begin expanding Halas Hall, but they might need to build out the training room now.
In what resembled a last-man-standing battle, they beat the rival Vikings 28-10 on Sunday at Soldier Field, but the badly needed victory came at a steep price. The Bears, who improved to 8-3 by snapping a two-game losing streak, lost five starters and are dangerously thin on their offensive line, depending on the status of guards Lance Louis and Chris Spencer, who both went out with knee injuries.
Running back Matt Forte left with an ankle injury, wide receiver Devin Hester suffered a concussion and cornerback Charles Tillman left with an ankle injury. Linebacker Lance Briggs had his right ankle retaped during the second half and was hobbled afterward. They were not the only ones banged up as the Vikings lost tight end Kyle Rudolph and free safety Harrison Smith to suspected concussions.
The Bears have been in good health for most of the season and the only injured player to miss the game was wide receiver Alshon Jeffery following arthroscopic knee surgery.
Quarterback Jay Cutler returned after missing one game with a concussion and locked onto Brandon Marshall, who caught 12 passes for 92 yards to go over 1,000 for the season, the first Bears receiver to do so since Marty Booker in 2002.
Cutler showed no ill effects from his head injury, keeping plays alive with his legs and absorbing a big hit from defensive end Jared Allen on his 13-yard touchdown pass to tight end Matt Spaeth. Cutler finished 23 of 31 for 188 yards with one touchdown and one interception. The only sack came when he was tripped up backpedaling on his first dropback.
"Jay was fired (up)," Marshall said. "Sense of urgency. The most I've seen all year. He was ready to go."
Forte carried 14 times for 42 yards before leaving in the third quarter after he was caught in a tangled mess of defenders. He fumbled on the Bears' first offensive play, and the Vikings capitalized with a 40-yard field goal by Blair Walsh.
But after the Bears got a takeaway when Nick Roach stripped Adrian Peterson (18 carries, 108 yards), Michael Bush scored on the first of his two 1-yard touchdown runs. Robbie Gould added a field goal and Chris Conte's interception of Christian Ponder set up Spaeth's score. The Bears ran a fake extra point with holder Adam Podlesh running in and they were running away with the game 25-3 at halftime.
The second half turned into a battle of attrition and the Bears weathered the storm on the line by moving benched right tackle Gabe Carimi to right guard, a desperation move needed as Edwin Williams already had spelled Spencer at left guard. Teams typically dress only seven linemen, as the Bears did, and now they are without Chilo Rachal, who walked out on the team Wednesday and was placed on the reserve/non-football injury list.
But the game plan was smart six days after the Bears surrendered six sacks in San Francisco. Offensive coordinator Mike Tice committed to the run throughout and the Bears used short drops, chip help and a variety of techniques to keep the Vikings at bay. Cutler said new right tackle Jonathan Scott "added a little extra edge" to the mix.
"When you have a line of new guys in there, I want to get rid of the ball fast," Cutler said. "Find my first read and take it. The more I can do to get rid of the ball quickly and run the ball. If we have to design routes to shorten things up, so be it."
While Peterson topped 100 yards, 23 came on a run midway through the fourth quarter when the game was out of hand. He never buoyed their offense, and Ponder missed his top target Percy Harvin, who was out with an ankle injury. Ponder completed only 22 of 43 passes for 159 yards.
The Bears and Vikings will meet again in two weeks at the Metrodome. Maybe both sides will be healed by then, but the key for the Bears, 2-6 in the last three seasons without Cutler, is the quarterback.
"Not every team has a guy like we have at our quarterback position," coach Lovie Smith said. "Just the confidence that comes with having your guy, your quarterback. No matter how it's looking, the guys have confidence that with Jay leading us, we can come back."
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