A stop in the right direction for Bears

CLEVELAND — Sure, the Cleveland Browns might be able to bring Jim Brown out of retirement and get better production than they’ve had from this year’s assortment of nobodies in the backfield.

And certainly quarterback Josh Campbell will remind no one of Bernie Kosar.

Still, a Bears defense used to yielding rushing yards in huge chunks while hoping the Chicago offense scores enough to offset the situation finally could enjoy a Sunday of meeting goals and contributing in a 38-31 victory that kept alive hopes for an NFC North title.

“I think guys are starting to come together,” linebacker James Anderson said. “Guys are starting to mold together defensively, and we’re starting to get some consistency.”

It all started with stopping the run. Jeremiah Ratliff, starting for the third time and playing nose tackle this week, may have been one big factor in the Bears holding Cleveland to 93 rushing yards. It was the first time since a Week 5 loss to New Orleans that they’d held an opponent below 100 yards. In fact, just holding someone below 200 yards ranked as an achievement over the previous seven games.

“As a matter of fact, we talked about that all week,” said Ratliff, who had 2 tackles, a tackle for loss and 3 hits on Campbell. “If we want to be the defense we really want to be, there’s some things we need to get done and that’s holding a team under 100 yards rushing, holding a team to 17 points or less and, of course, winning the turnover battle more than anything.

“I think we hit 2 of those. We need some more turnovers.”

The defense had held the Browns to 10 points on the day until a last-minute TD bomb to Josh Gordon over diving free safety Chris Conte, but they did offset Jay Cutler’s 2 interceptions with 2 interceptions by cornerback Zack Bowman. That included one for a 43-yard touchdown return and a 17-10 third-quarter lead.

“We were in a blitz,” Bowman said. “I kept my leverage and kept outside and he looked my way and I just broke and made the play.

“It was big. Obviously, when we score on defense we win games. It was a big touchdown for us as a team.”

As quickly as the Bears made the big play after holding Cleveland to 38 yards rushing in the first half, they yielded momentum and the lead by relapsing against the run.

Cleveland drove 85 yards to tie the score at 17-17 but needed the gimmick of a wildcat offense with running back MarQueis Gray taking a direct snap to get 30 big yards in the march.

“That was good play-calling,” Anderson said. “They kind of caught us off guard. We’ve got to do a better job of adjusting on the field as players.”

Until the late TD, though, the Cleveland offense would do nothing else. Along the way cornerback Tim Jennings held Gordon to only 2 catches for 24 yards until the last-minute, 43-yard TD against Conte. Campbell targeted Gordon 10 times to get the 3 catches.

“Coaches asked me to step up to the challenge of taking the No. 1 guy, and I’m always (saying) ‘whatever it takes to help the team win,’” Jennings said. “I think with the way we’re playing up front and with the position that (defensive coordinator Mel) Tucker was putting us in, we were always able to mix it up.

“So I’m able to go out there, do my job be where I’m supposed to be, be a little aggressive and know that our D-line and linebackers are starting to click.”

With linebacker Lance Briggs a possibility next week at Philadelphia after sitting out since Oct. 20 with a shoulder fracture, the defense sees only positives ahead.

“You see guys starting to get off blockers, and the biggest thing today was we got guys to the ball,” Anderson said. “You didn’t have a lot of 1-to-1 tackles. You had three, four, five guys to the ball.

“That’s what we need to do consistently to be a good defense.”

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