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Sports

With wins, Bears draw attention

| Thursday, Dec. 1, 2005

CHICAGO -- As the cameras and microphones crowded his locker Wednesday afternoon, Charles Tillman couldn't help but shake his head. This is new territory for him, new territory for the Chicago Bears.

They lead the NFC North after years of losing, they have the No. 1-rated defense, they've won seven in a row heading into Sunday's game against the Green Bay Packers, and they have attention -- locally and nationally.

"The locker room is officially full now," said Tillman, the Bears' left cornerback. "Before, there wasn't anybody in here. That's the business, I guess. This is the first time I've seen it because since I've been here, we've been losing. Now, we're winning. You've got ESPN and everyone else. It's just funny how everyone's in here.

"The bandwagon, I'm just saying it's officially full."

That seems strange, considering the Bears' mantra for much of the season was a lack of respect from the outside. From the start of training camp, through three losses in their first four games and even during this win streak, the players maintained this team was underrated.

Now, it's tough to ignore them.

They sacked Carolina's Jake Delhomme eight times in a 13-3 victory two weeks ago and got to Chris Simms four times in a 13-10 win at Tampa Bay last Sunday. Alex Brown had two in each game.

The Bears (8-3) are allowing 10.9 points per game, 161.5 yards passing, 4.1 yards per play and 14.1 first downs -- all league lows.

Green Bay (2-9), which has lost two games in a row and 5 of 6, ranks 20th on offense and ninth on defense.

While the numbers say this could be a win, the Bears weren't ready to dismiss the Packers. They understand the history. They realize the Packers have treated Chicago like a second home for the past 13 years. And they've been victimized too many times by Brett Favre.

The Packers have won 21 of the past 25 games against the Bears and 11 straight on the road, including one at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Ill., in 2002. A victory Sunday would tie an NFL record shared by the Rams and San Francisco 49ers. The Los Angeles Rams won 12 straight at San Francisco from 1969 to 1980, and the 49ers returned the favor from 1987 to 1998 -- winning games in Los Angeles and St. Louis.

"We know about that 11-game streak that they have going against us right now," coach Lovie Smith said. "We know everything -- the record, how they play. ... We're not going to have to give a lot of George Halas speeches this week because guys are ready to go."

Center Olin Kreutz said, "We're probably embarrassed by it and want to end it."

Favre is 12-1 in road games against Chicago, 11-1 at Soldier Field. The lone loss was on Dec. 5, 1993, when Favre threw for 402 yards, and the Packers have won 11 straight on the road against Chicago.

But at 36, he's doesn't have the same supporting cast he used to have.

So while he's fifth in the NFL with 2,714 yards, but he has 19 touchdowns, 19 interceptions and a passer rating (79.3) that ranks 22nd.

"Favre could have 20 picks and he could have two picks, he's still a great quarterback," Tillman said. "You have to play Brett Favre honest because he can be getting sacked and still throw it off his back leg and throw it 30 yards and throw a dead-on strike to one of his receivers."

That explains why coach Lovie Smith chuckled and gave this response when asked if he'll be sad to see Favre retire: "What do you think?"

"He's a good football player, he's meant an awful lot to our game," Smith said. "He's a great competitor. ... Once he leaves, it's a sad day. But I'll call him and thank him for leaving."

After years among the NFL's elite, the Packers are down. The Bears -- with losing records in 10 of the previous 13 seasons -- suddenly are the favorites. They're drawing the attention.

"And it's not even the fact that we want attention," Tillman said. "I think as a defense and as a team, we still haven't accomplished anything. We've just put ourselves in a better situation."

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