During Lovie Smith's best days as Bears coach, his teams were fueled by an opportunistic defense that forced a slew of turnovers and an offense that capitalized on those miscues.
Perhaps for old time's sake, the Bears employed that same formula Sunday to ruin Smith's return to Soldier Field as Buccaneers coach, rallying from a 10-0 halftime deficit for a 21-13 win.
"I'm really proud of our football team and the way they held it together for 60 minutes," said coach Marc Trestman. "It was obviously a very slow start offensively on multiple counts. The defense hung in there and kept the game close."
The Bears were booed off the field at halftime after mustering just 68 yards and three first downs on 28 plays. But the offense opened the second half by marching 58 yards capped by Jay Cutler's 2-yard touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffery, cutting the deficit to 10-7.
View photos from the game as the Bears take on the Buccaneers at Soldier Field.
Then it was the defense's turn to play takeaway. The unit forced turnovers on three straight possessions, the first two coming at the Tampa Bay 13 and 15. The offense took advantage of the short fields by scoring two touchdowns in a 1:49 span as the Bears grabbed a 21-10 lead.
"We play for takeaways every game," said safety Ryan Mundy, whose fourth-quarter interception set up the Bears' final TD. "Getting the ball back to the offense, that's our M.O. We knew that they were going to be playing for takeaways because when coach Smith was here that was the coaching points for them. We had to go out and execute and we did that."
First, David Bass sacked quarterback Josh McCown, forcing a fumble that Christian Jones recovered at the 13. On the next play, Kyle Long bolted up the middle for a 13-yard touchdown run to give the Bears their first lead at 14-10 with 4:51 left in the third quarter.
On the next play from scrimmage, McCown's high pass deflected off the hands of running back Charles Sims and was intercepted by Mundy, who returned it six yards to the 15. Four plays later Forte's 1-yard TD run up the middle increased the Bears' lead to 21-10.
"We're not going to apologize for the short fields," Trestman said. "We haven't had very many. We're not going to apologize for creating the turnovers, which we did. Being able to finish the drives was a very good positive out of this game; that we were able to close in the end zone."
The Buccaneers responded by marching to the Chicago 32. But Demontre Hurst stripped the ball from receiver Vincent Jackson on a 24-yard reception to the 8, and Tim Jennings recovered.
With the defense producing a total of four takeaways and five sacks in the game, the Bears were able to improve to 5-6 with their second straight win despite getting outgained 367-204.
"I can't say enough about the way [the defense] played, the way they performed," Cutler said. "They had pressure on Josh from the first snap to the last snap. They forced some turnovers. They gave us some short fields. The defense won the game today."
The Bears defense allowed only one touchdown for the second straight game. Last week the TD came after a fake punt by the Vikings resulted in a first down at the Chicago 8. On Sunday, the only touchdown came after the Buccaneers (2-9) took over at the Chicago 46 following a Cutler fumble.
Cutler completed 17 of 27 passes for 130 yards with one touchdown and an 87.0 rating. He was sacked three times, with one resulting in the Bears' only giveaway when he was drilled in the back by defensive tackle Gerald McCoy.
The turnover set up McCown's 19-yard touchdown pass to Mike Evans, who beat fellow rookie Kyle Fuller in the left corner of the end zone early in the second quarter. Patrick Murray's 32-yard field goal increased Tampa Bay's lead to 10-0 with :04 left in the first half.
The Bears generated pressure throughout the game on McCown, who completed 25 of 48 passes for 341 yards with 1 TD, 2 interceptions and a 64.7 passer rating.
With the win, the Bears (5-6) moved into sole possession of third place in the NFC North behind the Packers (8-3) and Lions (7-4) and ahead of the Vikings (4-7). It also kept their faint playoff hopes alive heading into another crucial game on Thanksgiving Day in Detroit.