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Bears wrap up dream year with Central title

SHARE Bears wrap up dream year with Central title

CHICAGO — Keith Traylor was huffing and puffing, his 300-pound-plus body chugging down the field with an interception, his eyes humorously studying where to go and what to do next.

Traylor ran out of steam before scoring Sunday, but the Chicago Bears had more than enough energy to capture their first NFC Central title since 1990.

The Bears (13-3) intercepted three passes and sacked Mark Brunell four times, and Anthony Thomas rushed for 160 yards as Chicago beat the Jacksonville Jaguars 33-13 to clinch the division.

Traylor's lumbering 67-yard, highlight-film return set up a TD that put the Bears up 20-0 in the third quarter.

It was truly a "big" defensive play from a team that has been making them all season.

"I just followed the ball. When it landed, I said, 'Oh I got it. What should I do now?"' said Traylor, a defensive tackle who played in two Super Bowls with Denver before signing in the offseason with the Bears.

"The ball landed in my hands and I just got as far as I could. I was looking for someone to pitch it to, but no one showed up. I did the best I could. I was trying to get there, but they got me."

The Bears, 5-11 a year ago, will get a week off and then play host to a playoff game Jan. 19 or Jan. 20.

"Oh, wow, it's hard to even explain," quarterback Jim Miller said outside a jubilant locker room. "It's been a long ride to get to this point. Guys are ecstatic."

Trailing 13-0, Jacksonville's Paul Spicer recovered Miller's fumble after a sack by Marlon McCree. Threatening to get back in the game after a Brunell-to-Keenan McCardell 16-yard pass put the ball on Chicago's 20, the Jaguars (6-10) were quickly turned away by the mammoth Traylor.

He reached up like a large bear, swatted Brunell's next pass into the air, tipped it again, grabbed it and took off like a slow-moving locomotive that would soon run out of steam.

Traylor, who had a sore hamstring, hesitated halfway down the field to read where he was, nearly lateraled to teammate Jerry Azumah, then humorously kept on chugging as teammates Mike Brown and R.W. McQuarters tried to give him a final push to the end zone. Finally, McCardell took down the weary Traylor from behind, but not until he reached the Jaguars 9.

"At that point, when you're 300-plus pounds and you're tired and fatigued, it doesn't take much to bring him down. We were trying to keep him up or at least push him where he'd stumble into the end zone," McQuarters said.

"I told Traylor, 'That's the longest you've ever run.' He was laughing and he said, 'I know,"' McCardell said.

"He reached back, tipped it up and made a nice play," Brunell said. 'He showed some good wheels unfortunately, and it was just one of those plays that really hurt us."

Two plays later, Miller hit David Terrell with a 9-yard pass to make it 20-0.

The Jaguars then responded with a 70-yard drive, capped by a 15-yard TD pass from Brunell to McCardell.

But Chicago never lost control. Paul Edinger kicked field goals of 25 and 22 yards — his third and fourth of the game — and Thomas ran 2 yards for a late TD as the Bears finished with their first 13-win season since 1986.

Thomas gained his 160 yards on 33 carries — 21 for 117 in the second half — to become the leading rookie rusher in Bears history, surpassing Rashaan Salaam's 1,074 yards in 1995.

The Bears scored 10 points in the final 1:17 of the first half for a 13-0 lead.

On a fourth-and-8 from the Jacksonville 28, Miller hit Marty Booker with a 17-yard pass, setting up a 2-yard TD run by Leon Johnson that made it 10-0.

Notes: The Bears introduced some of their former players at the half in the final regular-season game at Soldier Field before it is renovated.