Bears seize first in North as Jay Cutler, D figure out Michael Vick, Eagles

CHICAGO -- Still doubting the Chicago Bears? They're making it tougher.

Jay Cutler tied a career high with four touchdown passes and the Bears beat Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles 31-26 to take sole possession of the NFC North lead Sunday.

"It was a big game for us," Cutler said. "We talked about it in there. We have to keep going. We have to put this behind us. The true test in this league is consistency, especially in November and December, whether it's third downs, red zone, turnovers or winning ballgames. We just have to keep going."

The 31 points were a season-high for the Bears, who have won four straight. This one put them a game ahead of Green Bay in the division, and it also came against one of the top teams in the NFC.

The Eagles (7-4) had won three straight, but were unable to break off big plays against one of the league's stingiest defenses and fell into a tie with the New York Giants for the NFC East lead.

"It's going to be tough to put this one on the backburner," Vick said. "We have to do it."

Vick threw for 333 yards and two touchdowns. But he also threw his first interception in four years when he got picked off by Chris Harris in the end zone late in the first half, stopping a potential go-ahead scoring drive.

Julius Peppers had a sack for Chicago (8-3) after getting three the previous week, and the Bears got that signature win after beating struggling teams like Buffalo, Minnesota and the injury-ravaged Dolphins.

Matt Forte ran for 117 yards -- the most by anyone against Philadelphia this season. That included a 61-yarder to set up the first touchdown. And when he wasn't running by the Eagles, Cutler was picking them apart.

He had a 146.2 rating for the game, going 14 of 21 for 247 yards without an interception in one of his best games. The only downer was a fourth-quarter outburst that he expects to draw him a fine from the NFL. Cutler thought Ernie Sims should have been called for interference on an incompletion to Forte and yelled and yanked his chinstrap in disgust.

Otherwise it was a near-perfect performance.

With Cutler in command, Devin Hester caught three passes for 86 yards and Earl Bennett added two touchdown catches in an eye-opening win. There are still games remaining against New England, the New York Jets and Packers, but the Bears are close to making the playoffs for the first time since the 2006 team's Super Bowl run.

"The doubters aren't in this locker room playing football," Chris Harris said. "We believe in ourselves. We know we have a good football team."

It didn't hurt that the Eagles were missing their top two cornerbacks after Pro Bowler Asante Samuel stayed home with a knee injury and Ellis Hobbs went on injured reserve during the week with a neck injury. Defensive end Juqua Parker also sat out with a hip flexor strain, but they still had a rejuvenated MVP candidate behind center.

Even so, the Eagles fell to 5-1 in games Vick has started and finished. He hit Brent Celek with a 30-yard TD that made it 31-26 with 1:54 left, but Johnny Knox recovered the onside kick, preserving the win.

"As bad as we played, we lost by five and they know we're a better team," left tackle Jason Peters said.

The Bears led 14-3 through the first quarter, scoring two quick touchdowns after the Eagles' David Akers booted a 45-yard field goal about six minutes into the game, but were clinging to a one-point lead late in the half.

Then, one big interception by Harris turned the momentum and led to a TD by Chicago that made it 21-13.

Vick, who spent 1 1/2 years in prison for running an illegal dogfighting ring, had gone 238 passes without a pick after throwing one for Atlanta against Carolina on Dec. 24, 2006.

That streak came to an end on his 21st attempt of the game, and 212th of the season.

With the Eagles at the Chicago 4 and trailing by one, Harris picked off a pass in the end zone that teammate Tommie Harris tipped and ran it back to the 37, and six plays later, Cutler hit Bennett with a 6-yard TD that pushed the Bears' lead to 21-13 with 38 seconds left in the half.

A leaping Greg Olsen made it a 15-point game when he hauled in a 9-yarder in the back of the end zone, and Robbie Gould capped a 17-play drive that ate up 10:05 with a 23-yard field goal late in the third, making it 31-13.

"That interception was just deflating as a team," Vick said. "When you have an opportunity to go up, whether it's by six points or two if we get a field goal. Then we're up and momentum swings back your way."

Game notes
Vick has two 300-yard games this season and four in his career. ... Bears TE Desmond Clark was inactive for the fifth straight game.