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While the Chicago Bears were quick to replace Rex Grossman with Brian Griese at quarterback, they remain committed to Cedric Benson regardless of how disappointing their running game has been this season.
Chicago (2-3) will look for a better effort from Benson and try to reach .500 again when it hosts the Minnesota Vikings (1-3) on Sunday.
The defending NFC champion Bears stumbled early this season, but avoided their third straight loss last Sunday night with a 27-20 upset over division-leading Green Bay. Griese, the new starting quarterback, was efficient as he completed 15-of-25 passes for 214 yards and two touchdowns.
That was in stark contrast to his first start in place of Grossman against Detroit on Sept. 30, when Griese completed 34-of-52 passes for 286 yards but was intercepted three times in the 37-27 defeat.
“This was as much as a must-win game as you can get for us,” said Griese, who threw only one interception against Green Bay. “We needed the momentum. We needed the confidence.”
The Bears are 27th in the league as they’re averaging 82.6 rushing yards per game, well down from 119.9 last season. Chicago also started slow last season by averaging 97.7 yards in the first six games.
“We have a commitment to the run and I think that is what is important, especially early,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said. “If you say you are a running football team, you continue to run the football and we have done that. Even though we haven’t had that big rushing game so far, eventually we will.”
Smith and the Bears still are waiting for Benson to live up to the potential he showed last season when he had 647 yards and six touchdowns as Jones’ backup. This year, Benson is averaging just 3.0 yards per carry and his 10-yard scoring run Sunday was just his second touchdown of the season.
Benson and the Bears will next face one of the NFL’s top rushing defenses as Minnesota is allowing a league-low 62.0 yards per game. That could open up the passing game for Griese since the Vikings are giving up 266.8 passing yards per game - third-most in the NFL.
However the Bears score, they believe they’ve turned the corner after a disappointing stretch that began with their Super Bowl loss to Indianapolis.
“It’s amazing how much happier this team is when we’re winning,” Bears cornerback Danieal Manning said. “I don’t think anyone wants to relive the last month.”
The Bears swept last season’s series and have won eight of 12 meetings since 2001, which includes six straight wins in Chicago.
Minnesota looks to snap that skid with Tavaris Jackson back at quarterback. Jackson, in his second year, sat out the two previous games with a pulled groin.
Jackson has completed 30-of-56 passes for only 329 yards and one touchdown, but he’s thrown five interceptions - four of which came in his last start during a 20-17 loss at Detroit. Jackson, who’s made only four pass attempts against the Bears, knows he has a lot to prove Sunday.
“Not just proving to everyone else, but proving to my teammates and coaches that I’m not going to go out there and have four turnovers,” he said.
The Vikings hope his return, and coming back from their bye week, will jump-start a struggling offense. Minnesota has lost three straight since opening the season with a 24-3 win over Atlanta.
Minnesota is averaging 178.3 passing yards per game - fifth-fewest in the NFL - but a bigger concern is a loss would drop the Vikings to 1-4 in the division, an almost impossible deficit to make up.
“The numbers are what they are with the record and where we are at offensively and where we are at defensively, but it certainly doesn’t mean that the goal is not to improve and continue through this division,” Minnesota coach Brad Childress said.
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