Bears seek validation with win over Eagles

If they’re seeking validation to go with that mounting pile of

wins, the Chicago Bears won’t have to look too far.

Beat Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles and they’ll get

it. They’ll also be one step closer to a playoff berth.

”We’re getting to that final stretch of games where every

game’s important to whether or not you’re going to make it to the

playoffs or not,” quarterback Jay Cutler said.

Chicago could quiet the skeptics and stamp itself as a serious

threat in the NFC if it beats the Eagles (7-3) at Soldier Field on

Sunday, no small task. The Bears (also 7-3) realize what they’re in

for, that the schedule is about to take a tough turn after they won

three straight against weak competition. They’re tied with Green

Bay for the NFC North lead, but keeping pace won’t be easy.

And Sunday’s game could be particularly difficult. Not only is

Vick outrunning opponents, he’s beating them with his arm, too.

”Now that he’s throwing the ball so well, it adds a whole other

element to it,” linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa said. ”Before, you

knew he was going to run so it was like, ‘All right, let’s contain

him some.’ … But we feel comfortable and confident in the talent

we have here. We feel like we match up well. We feel like we have

great speed not only from our D-linemen but the back end as

well.”

More than anything, they have a chance to prove themselves, to

show that their record is more than the product of a friendly

schedule.

It’s one thing to beat teams that have struggled all year like

Detroit, Dallas, Carolina, Buffalo and Minnesota. And it doesn’t

hurt to face a third-string quarterback, as the Bears did when they

pounded Miami 16-0 last week. But things are about to change.

Games against New England, the New York Jets and Green Bay are

looming, and this one figures to be every bit as difficult. Not

that Philadelphia is in for a breather, either.

”If you start looking ahead at it you’re going to mess yourself

up,” coach Andy Reid said. ”The way the league’s done now, for

that reason, you can’t look ahead and go, ‘You know what, if we win

these two games then we have these two off.’ You can’t do that.

”So you have NFC East games all the way to the end and good

teams in between there with Chicago coming up here, and they’re not

too shabby at 7-3. So we have to make sure we’re ready to

roll.”

The Bears figure to have their hands full with Vick – assuming

they can actually get their hands on him. Then again, if there’s a

defense that could give him fits, this might be one.

”I don’t want to offend anybody else around the league, but

this group is a great group of guys who play together, play fast

and play hard,” Vick said. ”You can tell that they’ve jelled

together as a defense and they play with a tremendous amount of

confidence. I see why they’ve been able to accomplish what they’ve

been able to accomplish.”

The Bears are allowing 290.4 yards per game and rank third

overall, second against the run, and they’re second with 25

takeaways.

When it comes to scoring, no one is stingier.

The Bears have allowed the fewest points in the NFL (146) along

with the Packers, and after struggling all year to get sacks, they

came away with six against Miami, three from Julius Peppers.

”I tip my hat to those guys up front,” safety Danieal Manning

said. ”Guys are playing disciplined. They’re playing solid

football right now.”

But they haven’t faced a challenge like this.

It’s not hard to see why the Eagles are 5-0 in games Vick has

started and completed, and have won three straight since he missed

a month with broken ribs. He has thrown 11 touchdowns with no

interceptions. His 191 passes without a pick are a team record to

start the season, and his 108.7 passer rating leads the league.

He’s delivering MVP-level performances on almost a weekly basis

after spending 1 1/2 years in prison for running a dogfighting

ring, and then playing sparingly behind Donovan McNabb last

year.

The highlight this season? That was a jaw-dropping performance

against Washington two weeks ago. He threw for 333 yards and four

touchdowns and ran for 80 and two scores while leading the Eagles

to a 59-28 rout.

Vick slowed a bit in last week’s 27-17 win over the New York

Giants with 258 yards and a TD rushing, but the comeback has been

nothing short of remarkable. In his heyday with Atlanta, he was

never known for his passing ability. But he’s staying in the pocket

more and his 62.8 percent completion rate is easily a career

high.

”I think it’s a combination of both; fundamentals, accuracy,

knowing what’s going on, studying more, all those things,” Reid

said. ”I told you before that I thought he had very good coaches

there (in Atlanta). I think it’s his approach now.”