CHICAGO (AP) The Chicago Bears hit the halfway point of the season and their bye week feeling at least a little better about themselves.
After all, they just beat the first-place team in their division. Then again, that's about the only positive for them so far.
After stumbling through their first seven games, the Bears stunned the NFC North-leading Minnesota Vikings 20-10 on Monday night.
''We proved that last night, that when we come with our `A' game we can beat anybody,'' running back Jordan Howard said Tuesday.
The Bears (2-6) certainly had it going for them against the Vikings, with Howard, Jay Cutler and the defense all coming up big. Howard, a fifth-round draft pick, ran for a career-high 153 yards and a touchdown. Cutler threw for 252 yards and a TD after missing five games with a thumb injury, and the defense sacked Sam Bradford five times.
''I think it was important to kind of have a game like we had last night to build confidence against a very worthy opponent,'' coach John Fox said. ''It's really the first time I can remember all season that we've put 60 minutes of three-level good performance. I think that gives you confidence. Something good's got to happen to have confidence and hopefully we can build on that coming off our bye.''
Yes, it was a good night all around, the kind they thought would happen on a more regular basis. Instead, they've been hit hard by injuries and bogged down by poor play. And instead of making a jump in Fox's second season, they have been heading in the wrong direction coming off a six-win season.
Whether they can build on this is to be determined. But the upcoming schedule at least appears manageable, with only one of the next five games against a team that currently has a winning record.
They play at Tampa Bay (3-4) after the break and then visit the New York Giants (4-3). This stretch also includes two games against .500 teams in Tennessee and Detroit and the lowly San Francisco 49ers, owners of the NFL's second-worst record at 1-6.
The Bears have given their players a full week off after they delivered their most complete game of the season. The team hopes the down time will help several players, including nose tackle Eddie Goldman, return from injuries.
Chicago has gotten a few back in recent weeks, most notably linebacker Pernell McPhee and Cutler. And on Monday night, the Bears took it to the Vikings in just about every area.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was the way a short-handed offensive line handled the No. 1 defense. That group dominated from the start even though starting guards Kyle Long (triceps) and Josh Sitton (ankle) sat out with injuries.
Cutler got the protection he needed and settled into a groove after a shaky start.
Howard easily surpassed his previous high of 118 yards with the line blowing open holes for him. The fifth-round draft pick broke off a 69-yarder early in the game that was the longest run for Chicago in seven years.
Throw in the first touchdown catch of the season for Alshon Jeffery plus the defense taking down Bradford, and it added up to a stunning win for a struggling team.
Now, all the Bears have to do it build on it.
''It's supposed to continue to get better,'' linebacker Danny Trevathan said. ''We feel we've just kind of started. We're not satisfied with it. We're going to continue to work to get better.
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