CHAMPAIGN—The Bears needed Sunday's 27-23 comeback win over the Minnesota Vikings. They needed it in a lot of ways.
They needed a win to open the season. They needed a win over an NFC North Division and conference opponent.
"Was it a slap in the face? Was it a wake-up call?" said defensive end Bryan Robinson. "Yes. This was."
To their credit, the Bears did wake up and slap back. Indeed, the Bears' victory over the Vikings in their second game last year, when they also overcame a 10-point deficit, was the turning point of that season. If 2002 turns out to be anything close to 2001, remember this week.
The Vikings outgained the Bears 272-118 in the first half and led 20-10 over a team that was limping with injuries and heat exhaustion. They were within 30 seconds of upsetting the Bears before Jim Miller threw 9 yards to David Terrell for the winning touchdown on Terrell's only catch of the day.
Fittingly, perhaps, the touchdown was set up by safety Mike Brown, who was playing for the first time since fracturing his hand early in training camp. Brown's two overtime interceptions last season accounted for a pair of improbable wins, and this time he camped under an overthrown pass by Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper and returned the interception 16 yards to the Bears' 49.
From there Miller and the offense needed eight plays to give the Bears their first lead since late in the first quarter.
The defense then sealed the game when Rosevelt Colvin, who led the Bears last season with 101/2 sacks, stripped Culpepper of the ball for the Bears' lone sack of the game. Rookie Bryan Knight recovered the fumble and the Bears were 1-0 for only the second time in the last six years.
"We made some mistakes to put ourselves in that position," Miller said. "I think it's a sign of a good team that we're able to overcome those things, but we can't do those things."
The Bears overcame the heat, which reached 118 degrees at field level, themselves and the Vikings with Miller completing 20-of-33 passes for 297 yards and two touchdowns. More than half of his passing yardage came on eight completions to wide receiver Marty Booker, whose 198 receiving yards tied Harlon Hill for third on the Bears' all-time single-game list.
Minnesota led 3-0 on a 30-yard Doug Brien field goal on their second possession. The Bears began a run of four straight scoring possessions when they took the lead on a 29-yard pass from Miller to Booker with just over one minute remaining in the quarter. The Vikings answered with a 2-yard Culpepper run, Paul Edinger kicked a 49-yard field goal, and Brien put Minnesota back up 13-10 with a 22-yard field goal.
Heat and injuries left the Bears short-handed in the secondary. At one point late in the second quarter, of the five defensive backs on the field, none had been starters this time a year ago. Culpepper exploited the situation with a 33-yard TD pass between safeties Bobby Gray and Larry Whigham to Randy Moss, who finished with six catches for 58 yards.
But in the second half, the Bears hope they established their identity for the year. The defense began to control the line of scrimmage, holding the Vikings to 32 total yards in the third quarter and 92 for the half.
The Bears' running game that had netted just 9 yards in the first half began moving the Vikings backward with 71 in the second half. Anthony Thomas averaged negative yardage in the first half with seven carries and minus-2 yards; he averaged nearly 4 yards per carry in the second to go with Leon Johnson's 20 yards on two carries.
"I think that's just our style," Miller said. "We run the same stuff; we just wear you out. Yeah, you're going to stuff us a couple times, but we just keep on doing the same things, keep on pounding it. Eventually they had some guys who were hurt and had to leave the game and we just kept on doing the same thing.
"You could see it in their faces, thinking, 'Here they come again, here they come again.' What was zero yards then is 2 yards, then 4 or 5 yards in the second half."
Thomas' 1-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter brought the Bears to within 23-20. Brown intercepted Culpepper on Minnesota's next possession and the Bears controlled the ball for 2 minutes 6 seconds of the remaining 2:34 for their winning drive.
"The thing about this team is we fight for 60 minutes no matter what the score is," Brown said.
"If you beat us, you're going to have to work hard to beat us. That's our motto, that's what we do: We play all 60 minutes and try to come up with big plays at the end of the game to try to win."