The Jags have been a perfect example of NFL parity for much of the season, with 11 of their 12 games decided in the closing minutes and several on the final play. They were able to relax for the first time Sunday.
“That’s the best play in football—the kneel down,” linebacker Mike Peterson said. “We’d like to have those more often.”
The Jaguars (7-6) ended a three-game losing streak and remained a game back in the crowded AFC wild-card race. The Bears (5-8), with yet another poor offensive outing, hurt their slim chances of gaining a playoff berth in the lackluster NFC.
“They had their backs up against the wall and they played better than we did,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said. “It’s as simple as that.”
Chicago’s defense kept it close early, but Jacksonville pulled away in the second half. It was the first time the Jags have won this season in which the outcome wasn’t decided in the final minute.
“We won this game comfortably,” Leftwich said. “It didn’t come down to the last drive or the last play. When you get wins like this, it takes the tension off.”
Leftwich gave Jacksonville an early lead with a 6-yard TD pass to rookie Reggie Williams in the first quarter. It was Williams’ first career touchdown.
The Jags were plagued by dropped balls all game, but Jimmy Smith made a diving catch for a 31-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter that sealed the victory.
Leftwich finished 25-of-45 for 242 yards. Smith caught six passes for 85 yards, and Williams had his most productive game with four receptions for 62 yards.
“I missed some passes,” Leftwich said. “If I hit those, instead of 22 points on the scoreboard we’ve got 38 or 40.”
Fred Taylor also came up with several clutch runs for the Jaguars, gaining a tough 79 yards. But the defense had the biggest impact.
The unit sacked Hutchinson five times, including once for a safety, and forced him into several bad passes and an interception. He finished 17-of-33 for 212 yards and fumbled once.
Thomas Jones was held to 26 yards rushing.
“It felt good to finish them off when you see them bleeding,” Peterson said.
The outcome was quite different from Chicago’s victory last week against Minnesota. In his first start of the season, Hutchinson was 18-of-30 for 213 yards with three touchdowns—and Jones and Anthony Thomas combined for 104 yards on the ground.
But the Bears weren’t nearly as healthy this week. They played without five offensive starters, including three linemen. Right tackle John Tait (knee) and right guard Rex Tucker (hamstring) were inactive, forcing Terrence Metcalf and Aaron Gibson into the starting lineup.
Tight end Desmond Clark (rib/shoulder) and fullback Bryan Johnson (foot) also were inactive. Making matters worse, veteran guard Ruben Brown is out for the season with a neck injury. Brown started nine games this season.
“We can talk about every position, and I’m going to say the same thing: we didn’t play as well as we needed to,” Lovie Smith said.
The Bears committed 13 penalties for 104 yards, most of them called against the offense.
“Their defense played a good game, but we killed ourselves with penalties at crucial times,” Jones said. “You can’t do that and expect to win.”
Hutchinson made some of his best throws after scrambling out of the pocket, but he had to run all too often.
He completed a 38-yard pass to Bernard Berrian that set up Chicago’s only points: a 42-yard field goal by Paul Edinger late in the first half. Edinger missed a 47-yarder earlier in the second quarter.
“That ‘3’ looked pretty good up there on the scoreboard,” Peterson said. “But it could have been better. It could have been a zero up there. They basically made one play—the pass in the middle of the field. Other than that, it was pretty perfect.”
Bears LB Brian Urlacher left the game in the second half with a hamstring injury. He will be re-evaluated Monday. … Jimmy Smith and Taylor each eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark for the Jags. … Chicago’s 31 yards rushing was a season low and was three yards shy of the Jags’ franchise record. … Jags DE Jason Gildon recorded a sack for the third consecutive game.