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(CBS Chicago) – There are still some people, in Chicago and around the NFL, who don’t consider the Bears a legitimate playoff team. Those people cite the fact the Bears’ wins have come against underachieving teams. Well a win against the Philadelphia Eagles would help turn some of the critics into believers.
With Michael Vick playing like a Pro Bowl quarterback and leading Philadelphia to three straight victories and into sole possession of first place in the NFC East, the Eagles are suddenly looking like a Super Bowl contender.
The Chicago Bears have similarly won three games in a row and are also atop their division, but aren’t widely considered an NFC power. A win over Philadelphia would go a long way in confirming their status as a top contender.
Vick looks to help the Eagles to a fourth straight win Sunday at Soldier Field against a Bears team hoping for a signature victory.
Vick continued his remarkable comeback story, improving to 5-0 in games he has started and finished this season in last Sunday’s 27-17 come-from-behind win over the Giants, which moved Philadelphia (7-3) one game ahead of New York in the East. The three-time Pro Bowl pick passed for 258 yards, ran for a score and likely could’ve had two TD passes had DeSean Jackson and Jason Avant not dropped balls in the end zone.
“We can limit our mistakes, limit our turnovers and be more efficient in the red zone,” said Vick, who was making his third straight start after missing a month with a rib injury. “I’m very disappointed that we didn’t put the ball into the end zone more than we did and that just can’t happen. We’ll correct it.”
That could be difficult against a Chicago team that is tied for the NFL lead in scoring defense at 14.6 points, ranks second in rush defense at 78.0 yards and third in total defense at 303.0 yards. The Bears (7-3), however, haven’t faced anybody as dynamic as Vick, who has 11 passing touchdowns and five on the ground.
In addition to leading the league with a 108.7 passer rating and going 191 attempts without an interception – the longest streak to start a season in franchise history – Vick also leads all quarterbacks with 375 rushing yards. He has four running touchdowns in the last three games, and his scrambling ability creates big problems for defenses.
“Our front seven, really, we’ll need to be disciplined,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said. “We’re saying that each week about being disciplined in your lanes. That will definitely be the case. Of course, he’s a great thrower, but we still feel like for us to have the most success, we need to keep him penned in.”
Vick is also surrounded by several playmakers on offense.
LeSean McCoy is averaging 83.0 rushing yards and has a 6.1 yard-per-carry average during the winning streak, while Jackson has caught 14 passes for 257 yards and two TDs in the last three.
“There are so many challenges and so much talent on their offense,” Bears linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa said.
Chicago, tied with Green Bay for first place in the NFC North, is coming off its best defensive performance of the season, but it came against a Miami team starting a third-string quarterback behind a banged-up offensive line. In last Thursday’s 16-0 win, the Bears allowed 187 yards and a single third-down conversion while sacking Tyler Thigpen six times.
Chicago hasn’t been facing the toughest of opponents with its last four wins coming over Miami, Minnesota, Buffalo and Carolina – teams with a combined 11-29 record.
Although the Bears’ success can be somewhat hard to gauge, beating Vick and the Eagles would likely impress most skeptics. It would also help their playoff chances, as Bears have more conference losses – critical in the playoff tiebreaker formula – than any NFC team with a winning record.
“With every win here, especially in the conference, it’s going to be huge at the end of the year for seedings and all that,” tight end Greg Olsen said. “So we understand the importance of this game.”
While the Bears figure to have their hands full trying to contain Vick, the offense could have similar problems against an opportunistic Philadelphia defense. The Eagles have recorded 16 sacks in five road games and top the NFL with 19 interceptions, but league leader Asante Samuel (seven INTs) will miss this game with a knee injury.
That’s good news for Jay Cutler, who has 12 touchdowns to 10 interceptions. He’s been playing a bit better during the three-game winning streak, passing for five touchdowns and three interceptions. Cutler has taken just six sacks in that span but still has been sacked more than any other quarterback – 33 times.
Cutler completed 24 of 43 passes for 171 yards with one touchdown and one interception in last season’s 24-20 loss to the Eagles.
This is the fourth consecutive season these teams will square off and the third straight meeting at Soldier Field.
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