TAMPA—The Bears are determined to prove a losing record isn’t the best indicator of what kind of team they’re going to be in the future.Running back Ka’Deem Carey delivered a glimpse of what he might be able to contribute moving forward, rushing for one touchdown and catching a pass for another Sunday to help the Bears stop a three-game losing streak with a 26-21 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.Rebounding from a disappointing performance in a 21-point loss to Minnesota, the Bears (6-9) surpassed their victory total for a year ago to create some momentum heading into next week’s season finale against Detroit.Coach John Fox, hired after Marc Trestman was fired following a 5-11 finish in 2014, is confident the team’s headed in the right direction.
”We feel it; those guys feel it. We’re getting there,” Fox said. ”We need to improve. They know it, but they’re still trying to finish this year well. We’ve got one more game to try to avoid a double-digit losing season.”
Carey caught a 1-yard TD pass from Jay Cutler, and the third-string running back also scored on a 1-yard run while teaming with Matt Forte and Jeremy Langford to spearhead a rushing attack that gained 174 yards and kept Tampa Bay’s Jameis Winston off the field for long stretches.The victory was only the second in the past six games for the Bears. Tampa Bay has lost four of five, including three straight after rebounding from a slow start to climb into contention for a wild-card playoff berth.
”We’ve just got to bounce back. It’s the NFL. Sometimes this stuff happens,” Winston said of the tough stretch that ensures the Bucs (6-9) will finish with a losing record for the fifth straight season.Obviously we don’t want it to happen to us, but it happened. We have to be accountable,” the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s NFL draft said. ”And every one of those games, it’s our fault. You can pick two or three plays to say: `This could have changed the game.’ That’s what this game comes down to. … If you want to be a great team, you’ve got to make every single play count.”
Winston completed 15 of 29 passes for 295 yards with one costly interception. He threw for two TDs, including a 43-yard Hail Mary toss to Austin Seferian-Jenkins with one second remaining.Cutler was 20 of 27 for 156 yards, one TD and no interceptions. Robbie Gould kicked first-half field goals of 26 and 27 yards, then added a couple of long ones – 49 and 50 yards – after Tampa Bay took the lead early in the second half.The Bears, meanwhile, forced three turnovers – one of them Harold Jones-Quartey’s goal-line interception – and limited Pro Bowl running back Doug Martin to 49 yards rushing on 17 attempts.
”We had a lot of reasons to play well. We practiced well. I thought we were prepared,” said Bucs coach Lovie Smith, who also feels his team is better than it has performed during its late-season skid. ”We’re disappointed. What it says about our team is if you turn the ball over and you make a couple critical mistakes on the other end, you have an outcome like that,” Smith added. ”This is a better football team. Today we didn’t play our best ball.”
Both teams were eliminated from playoff contention last week, but want to use the final two games of the season to learn about young players and set the tone for next year.One of Tampa Bay’s goals also is to try to help Martin win the NFL rushing title. The fourth-year pro entered day as the league’s second-leading rusher, 9 yards behind Adrian Peterson.Martin scored on a 4-yard run set up by a blocked punt, but the Bears outrushed the Bucs 95-40 and controlled the ball for just over 20 minutes in building a 13-7 halftime lead.Winston then handed off to Martin five consecutive times before finishing a six-play, 78-yard touchdown drive with a sideline throw to Charles Sims that the running back turned into a 50-yard scoring play to put the Bucs ahead 14-13.
NOTES—angford rushed for 83 yards on 19 carries, Forte had 54 yards on 11 attempts, and Carey carried seven times for 16 yards. … Smith lost for the second straight season to Chicago, the team he coached for nine seasons from 2004 to 2012. The Bears won three division titles and appeared in two NFC championship games and one Super Bowl under him. … The Bucs forced zero turnovers. They have one takeaway in the past five games.