1 more for the road

Tribune staff reporter

This one might have been a little tougher to digest than your Thanksgiving Day turkey.

But after the Bears' 10-6 victory Thursday over the Detroit Lions, Dave Wannstedt smiled and gave thanks to his assistant coaches and players.

Terry Obee gave thanks for being able to run under Jim Harbaugh's 42-yard pass for the game's only touchdown.

Long-snapper Jay Leeuwenburg gave thanks to Chris Gardocki for salvaging a punt from the Bears' end zone after the snap sailed over Gardocki's head.

And Steve McMichael gave thanks that Barry Sanders was unable to play in the fourth quarter because of a knee injury, which was the biggest blow of all to the Lions. Sanders will be out three to five weeks with ligament damage.

It was a Thanksgiving Day to end all others for these implausible Bears, who climbed back into the NFC Central playoff chase at 6-5 with their third consecutive victory, all on the road. It's the first time they've done that since 1965, and they became the first NFL team to win three straight away games in a 12-day span.

As was the case in the Bears' survivals at San Diego 16-13 and at Kansas City 19-17, there were heroic efforts in the Silverdome by the defense, special teams and occasionally the offense, but it was a grind all the way.

"They are a tired team in that locker room," said Wannstedt.

The Bears bring their road show back to Soldier Field on Dec. 5 to face the Green Bay Packers (6-4), who play host Sunday to Tampa Bay with a chance to tie slumping Detroit (7-4) for the division lead.

In the first half, the Bears took a 10-3 lead by scoring all their points off Lions turnovers. Quarterback Rodney Peete, under pressure from the front four, yielded two fumbles and two interceptions.

Kevin Butler, who later missed from 49 and 42 yards, booted a 27-yard field goal that was set up when Richard Dent sacked Peete, forcing a fumble that Trace Armstrong recovered at the Lions' 31 with 2:35 left in the first period.

Armstrong also had two of the Bears' five sacks, claimed another fumble and forced one. After his first recovery, the running of Tim Worley and Craig Heyward and Harbaugh's 9-yard pass to Tom Waddle moved the ball to the 10 before Butler was called on.

While a swarming defense was limiting Detroit to 84 yards rushing, 63 by Sanders on 16 carries, the Bears' ground game continued to show some life, netting 112 yards. Neal Anderson rushed 15 times for 68 yards, Worley eight times for 32.

Jason Hanson kicked a tying 39-yard field goal with 10:19 left in the half after a 34-yard pass from Peete to Brett Perriman keyed a 9-play, 58-yard drive.

The Bears then drove to the Lions' 22, propelled by passes of 26 and 11 yards to Waddle. But Harbaugh, who was 9 of 16 for 123 yards, was sacked for a 3-yard loss before Butler pushed his 42-yarder wide right.

The Lions were on the move toward the end of the half when Peete faded to pass and had the ball poked away by Armstrong, who recovered it at the Lions' 42 with 1:13 left.

On the next play, Obee hooked up with Harbaugh on a post pattern, beating Ray Crockett with a diving catch at the goal line for the touchdown and a 10-3 lead at halftime.

"Jim threw a great pass," said Obee. "I am thankful to God to make a catch like that on Thanksgiving Day. Earlier in the week, our offensive coaches felt that play would work because the Lions double-team Waddle on that play.

"I feel that when I run that far downfield, I have to make the effort to catch it. I think they underestimated me."

Hanson's 27-yard field goal with 6:55 left in the third period made it 10-6. It was his 28th of the season, breaking a club record set by Eddie Murray, now with Dallas.

That score came after Harbaugh had a shovel pass intercepted for the second straight game. He flipped the ball to Anderson, who bobbled it into the hands of defensive end Dan Owens at the Detroit 40.

"That wasn't a called play," said Harbaugh, who pitched a shovel pass into the arms of Kansas City defensive end Neil Smith on Sunday. "It was just instinct. I felt Neal was coming back toward me."

A pass to Perriman and a personal foul on linebacker Vinson Smith for a late hit on Peete set up Hanson's kick.

Gardocki saved a possible disastrous play after the snap from center sailed 5 yards over his head. He outraced Lions cornerback Ryan McNeil for the loose ball and somehow managed to get off a punt from his end zone with McNeil hanging onto him. The kick bounced to the Lions' 44, only 4 yards past the line of scrimmage.

"I got lucky and got a good roll," said Gardocki.

"It was a great heads-up play by Gardocki," said Wannstedt. "He actually works on that in practice. It was a great athletic play. He is not just a kicker. He is a good athlete."

The Bears got the ball right back when Peete's pass for Perriman was intercepted by Jeremy Lincoln and returned 21 yards with :43 left in the third period.

"I was thankful the Lions didn't score," said Leeuwenburg. "Bottom line, I'm thankful we won."

The Lions weren't done trying, however.

With 8:53 left, Gardocki's punt was muffed by Vernon Turner and recovered by the Bears, accoding to the signal of one official. But after a conference of officials, the ball went back to the Lions on a ruling that a whistle was blown before the recovery.

"The football came down and was still loose, and the back judge thought that the ball had been possessed and the fellow was down with the football,' said referee Bob McElwee. "By rule, if the whistle is blown while the ball is still loose, it automatically must go to the receiving team."

Wannstedt displayed uncharacteristic anger on the sideline after the reversal.

"Somebody blew the whistle," he said. "We recovered the fumble. Our guys didn't hear any whistle."

But the Bears defense was equal to the challenge again.

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