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updated: 11/8/2011 7:12 PM

Bears can take control of playoff race

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  • Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher makes things tough for Eagles running back LeSean McCoy during Monday's victory.

      Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher makes things tough for Eagles running back LeSean McCoy during Monday's victory.
    Associated Press

 
 

As statement games go, they don't get much better than the Bears' performance Monday night at Philadelphia.

Regardless of their disappointing 3-5 record, the Eagles are a talented team. Their losses have been to opponents with a combined 28-12 record. Before the 30-24 loss to the now 5-3 Bears, the Eagles lost by 7 in Buffalo to the 5-3 Bills, by 1 to the 7-1 San Francisco 49ers, by 13 to the 6-2 New York Giants and by 4 in Atlanta to the 5-3 Falcons.

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But the Bears went into Philadelphia and overcame adversity while answering a lot of questions about themselves. A team that last month was just 2-3 and in danger of being left in the NFC North dust of the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions is now in the thick of the playoff fight, and ahead on points.

The Bears already have defeated three teams that could wind up battling with them for a playoff berth -- the Falcons, Bucs and Eagles -- which gives them the upper hand in the first tiebreaker, head-to-head competition.

If the season ended today, the Bears would own the sixth and final NFC playoff spot.

A victory at home Sunday (3:15 p.m., FOX) over the suddenly not-so-hot 6-2 Lions would put Lovie Smith's team in the wild-card driver's seat heading into four straight games against the underachieving AFC West. The Lions have dropped two of three since beating the Bears on Oct. 10.

But back to the win over the Eagles. The Bears knew they had to create turnovers and limit big plays to defeat Andy Reid's team, and they accomplished both.

They turned a DeSean Jackson fumble and a Michael Vick pick into 10 points. Unfortunately for the Bears, they essentially handed the Eagles 14 points on 2 fumbles by Matt Forte. After the second Forte turnover led to a 24-17 Eagles lead, the Bears scored the last 13 points in the final 15:21.

The way the Bears responded in a hostile environment against a talented team that was playing with a lead and a lot of confidence bodes well for the future.

"We have great leadership," coach Lovie Smith said. "We have a lot of guys who have been around here for a while, and they've been in those situations.

"They know that it's a 60-minute game, and you just have to fight through some adversity that comes every game. You just have to stay the course. When you're a confident football team, I think you do those things."

And any concerns that the Bears' defense is too old should have been put to rest Monday night.

Julius Peppers, 31, had his fifth sack immediately after returning from what Bears fans probably feared was a serious injury to his left knee, especially if they saw the slow-motion replay.

Brian Urlacher, 33, was outstanding all night, especially against Eagles running back LeSean McCoy, who came in as the NFL's second-leading rusher.

McCoy's 33-yard TD run put Philly on top 24-17, but his other 15 carries netted just 38 yards. Urlacher stuffed him for 1-yard gains twice, no gain once and a 4-yard loss, as part of his 11-tackle performance.

"Brian is getting better and better and getting faster as he gets older," said Vick, who had just 2 completions longer than 13 yards. "These guys are aging well."

Peppers and Urlacher each had 2 pass breakups, and 30-year-old cornerback Charles Tillman was instrumental in limiting Jackson and Jeremy Maclin to a combined 6 catches for 79 yards, even though Vick threw to them 17 times.

"We were physical," Tillman said. "That was one of the things we knew we had to do -- outhit them. We accomplished that."

The Eagles had 41 plays of 20 yards or longer in their first seven games but only 3 against the Bears, and nothing longer than McCoy's TD run.

"I think they did get a little frustrated toward the end," Tillman said. "They make big plays, and we wanted to make them grind it out. We were pretty successful with that. We (bent), but we didn't break."

rlegere@dailyherald.com

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