CHICAGO (AP) That awkward little return for Lovie Smith is over. Next up for the Chicago Bears is a much bigger challenge.
Chicago forced three turnovers while scoring 21 unanswered points in the third quarter of a 21-13 victory over Smith and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday. Matt Forte rushed for 89 yards and two touchdowns as the Bears won consecutive games for the first time since September.
But they had to cast aside the win streak in a hurry with a Thanksgiving game at Detroit coming up.
''It's a big game, divisional game coming up on Thursday,'' Forte said, ''and one of the best defenses in the league, if not the best. They got a real good D-line, too. So it's going to be a tough game coming off a short week.''
Smith coached the Bears to three playoff appearances and a trip to the 2007 Super Bowl during his successful nine-year run in Chicago. He was hired by Tampa Bay in January, and his return to Chicago showed just how far he has to go to get the lowly Bucs (2-9) back on track.
''Won a lot of games here at Soldier Field,'' Smith said. ''Lot of great memories, but this is a bad memory right now.''
Jay Cutler threw a 2-yard TD pass to Alshon Jeffery to help Chicago (5-6) erase a 10-0 halftime deficit. Forte had a 13-yard run that put the Bears ahead to stay, and then added a 1-yard plunge that made it 21-10.
''We played better in the second half certainly, as a result of our defense creating those turnovers and giving us a short field,'' Chicago coach Marc Trestman said.
Josh McCown threw for 341 yards and a touchdown for Tampa Bay, and Vincent Jackson had five receptions for 117 yards. But McCown also threw two interceptions and lost a fumble, and Jackson also had a costly fumble on a rainy day in Chicago.
''Disappointing,'' said McCown, who played with the Bears off and on for the previous three seasons. ''We came out like we wanted to but the third quarter killed us.''
Here are some key developments from the game:
Forte increased his career total for rushing TDs to 40, passing Hall of Famer Gale Sayers for fourth on the franchise list. Forte, who had five receptions for 23 yards, also joined Hall of Famer Curtis Martin and LaDainian Tomlinson as the only three players with 1,400 or more yards from scrimmage in each of their first seven NFL seasons.
''Great player,'' Smith said. ''He's been that way since he came in the league, so yeah, same old Matt Forte.''
Smith was Chicago's coach when Forte rushed for 1,238 yards and eight touchdowns during his rookie season in 2008. Those were Forte's best numbers before he rushed for 1,339 yards and nine TDs under Trestman last year.
''It was weird seeing him over there, I guess,'' Forte said of Smith. ''Coming across the field after the game, you know, I'm so used to seeing him coming from my sideline. But good to see him.''
Tampa Bay's wide receivers put up some big numbers. Rookie Mike Evans had a touchdown reception for the fourth consecutive game, and Louis Murphy added six receptions for 113 yards.
''We were doing some great things on offense today,'' said Evans, who has eight touchdowns in his last seven games. ''They couldn't really stop us. We were doing what we wanted to do. It's just the elements took over. The ball was real wet. It was unfortunate.''
Bears safeties Ryan Mundy and Chris Conte each had an interception. They have three apiece on the season.
Mundy had just two career interceptions coming into his first season with Chicago. Conte matched his career high set last season.
''We play for takeaways every game,'' Mundy said. ''Getting the ball back to the offense, that's our M.O.''
RETURNING TO THE FIELD
Tampa Bay running back Doug Martin had 11 carries for 27 yards after missing three games with an ankle injury. He is averaging just 2.8 yards on 69 carries over six games this year.
Evans isn't the only rookie playing a key role for Tampa Bay. Patrick Murray made two field goals, connecting from 32 and 39 yards. He has made his last six attempts since he had a field goal blocked and missed another kick in a 22-17 loss at Cleveland on Nov. 2.
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Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap