If there is a day of reckoning, and if it is upon them, the Bears will enjoy this while they can. If a .500 record is only a pipe dream, and some combination of Denver, Kansas City, Detroit or Green Bay is waiting to knock them back into submission in the coming weeks, then for now, anyway, that will just have to wait.

Monday morning and all

of its grim realities comes soon enough for a Bears team that will have to spend a week watching John Elway videos and reviewing new X-rays.

Sunday was reserved for some well-earned optimism and a healthy bit of self-congratulation after a 13-10 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before 58,727 at Soldier Field.

On this day, anything was still possible and a raggedy victory was just fine. To expect anything different would be like a man dying of thirst demanding an Evian.

"Obviously, there were some things that weren't real pretty," said coach Dave Wannstedt. "But as I told the players, you can talk about the glass being half empty or half full. I really think we made some progress. . . . We have to look at this thing as a big win. It's two in a row. We're still alive."

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the immediate football futures of Keith Jennings, Ryan Wetnight or Bryan Cox.

On Sunday, two-thirds of the Bears' tight end corps was knocked out as Jennings, bothered since the season opener by a groin injury, suffered a season-ending fracture of his right fibula. Wetnight, still feeling the effects of off-season surgery on his left knee, sprained the medial collateral ligament in his right knee and will miss at least four weeks. Cox is still scheduled for surgery Monday to repair three fractures of his left thumb, which may keep him out as long as four weeks.

And speaking of discouraging, the Bears continued to experience difficulty in punching the ball into the end zone from inside the 20-yard line. They were there three times Sunday but came away with only one touchdown, on a 1-yard run by Raymont Harris, along with two field goals by Jeff Jaeger, from 27 and 23 yards.

The play of the game was made by the defense--a forced fumble, recovery and 34-yard return in the third quarter by linebacker Vinson Smith, whose heads-up reaction to no whistle blown after the fumble gave the Bears the ball on the Bucs' 19-yard line and set up Harris' TD.

"After a game like this, you want to sit back and say, `Maybe (Tampa Bay) didn't play good defense,' or something like that," said offensive tackle James Williams. "But they were bringing it. The linebackers were coming, the defensive line was moving around. We were just able to get a few people out of there, and the backs were making good reads, and when things like that are working together, this is what happens."

If the Bears (4-5) are looking for further solace, they can be consoled by the fact that Tampa Bay (1-8) has now allowed its last four opponents only 13 points while losing three of the four games.

"They played good defense, but we just have to score more points, simple as that," said quarterback Dave Krieg, who completed 11 of 25 passes for 84 yards and had only one interception. But it led to Tampa Bay's only touchdown.

In a battle between the two lowest-scoring teams in the league, the game actually went as expected. The Bears were in Bucs territory on six of 12 offensive possessions, while Tampa Bay was in Bears territory on five of 13 offensive drives, coming away with only one touchdown, on a 17-yard pass from Trent Dilfer to tight end Dave Moore, and a 45-yard field goal to take a 10-6 lead late in the second quarter.

On the half-full side for the Bears is the continued improvement of the defensive line, which pressured Dilfer into a 15-for-32 passing day for 184 yards and an interception. And ever compelling is the developing competition between starting tailback Rashaan Salaam, who had 54 yards on 16 carries, and former starting fullback Raymont Harris, who ran for a career-high 118 yards on 19 carries.

"It was pretty tough coming in and out, but I'm happy with what happened," said Harris, who was actually in on the first offensive play and downplayed the competition. "I've always considered myself a starter even though I'm not actually in the starting lineup. It's something that's played up a lot more outside the organization. With me missing five or six weeks, I'm really not in a position to demand to have starting status."

And neither are the Bears in position to get too greedy. With the victory, they are now tied for third in the conference with Detroit at 4-5 and still in the hunt for a playoff wild card with seven games left. "We're trying to get to .500 as quick as possible," Smith said.

A Minnesota loss to Kansas City left the Bears and Lions just one game behind the Vikings.

"Going from 2-5, yeah, we want to get to .500, but we've just got to win," said linebacker Joe Cain. "Any way we can do that, it's big."