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Columnist
Bears keep South from rising again
By Barry Rozner | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 12/12/2008 12:25 AM

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Orton hears a boo.

That looked like it might be the headline after New Orleans appeared to complete the NFC South superfecta.

In four games against that division in 2008, the Bears had four leads late, blew every one of them and had every reason in the world to lose again Thursday night.

But after 3 crushing defeats, the Bears finally managed one narrow escape.

Though 1-3 doesn't generally add up to success, it was one monumental win, and if your 2008 Chicago Bears make the playoffs, it'll be their 27-24 OT win over the Saints that makes the difference.

After blowing games against Carolina and Tampa way back in September, and the disastrous ending in Atlanta in October, the script seemed to be written for yet another debilitating defeat.

The Bears' bend-and-break defense allowed the Saints to come back from down 21-7 at the half and score 17 unanswered points in the second half to take a 24-21 lead with 3:05 left in the game.

Meanwhile, the frigid Bears offense looked like it was the one fresh out of a dome, complete with dull playcalling and duller plays.

QB Kyle Orton had one of his worst games as a Bear with a pair of interceptions and looked like he'd be the goat until he marched the Bears down the field at the end of regulation, setting up Robbie Gould for the game-tying, 28-yard field goal.

And in overtime the Bears got the ball first and needed only 6 plays to get back into field-goal range, thanks to a big pass-interference penalty when Devin Hester was mugged on a ball underthrown by Orton.

From there, it was Gould again, this time with a 35-yard field goal to win it and the Bears (8-6) could start talking about the playoffs like it's a real possibility instead of a fantasy.

"Devin ran a great route, and the ball hung up in the air a bit, but he made a great play to come back and get it,'' Orton said. "We made just enough plays on offense to win the game.

"Not pretty, but we'll take it and get better.''

Now, they can rest up and think about the Packers, who pounded the Bears senseless in Green Bay in mid-November but have been absolutely atrocious since.

After beating the Bears 37-3, the mighty Packers have lost three straight and given up an average of 37 points per game. That will look appealing to a Bears offense that has been taking steps backward since Orton injured his ankle.

"It's December and you have to grind it out and make plays when you have to,'' Orton said. "We've been in playoffs the last two weeks and we're 2-0 and we live to fight another day.''

It didn't seem to matter to the Bears that they were mediocre again Thursday night, and their focus was only on their record.

The Bears will be in a much better spot if they can get Orton healthy and back to playing at the level he found before he was injured, but after a thrilling comeback Thursday the Bears didn't seem all that concerned about their starting quarterback.

"We started a little slow offensively, but we made the plays when we had to,'' head coach Lovie Smith said. "We won the football game. That's the stat that matters to me.''

Another one might be 1-3. That's better than 0-4.

And it meant Orton didn't have to hear a boo.

brozner@dailyherald.com