The Chicago Bears' pulses were quickening yet again, for good reason.
A week after missing a 41-yard field goal that would have beaten Minnesota in overtime, Chris Boniol kicked a 36-yarder 4:58 into overtime to give the Bears a 23-20 win over the free-falling San Diego Chargers.
"We're learning how to win the close ones," said quarterback Jim Miller, who had a second straight sensational start and put Boniol in position for the winning kick. "Sometimes your heart can't take it. That's a big step for this team to take."
Boniol said he wasn't thinking about last week's flub, but knew he better not miss. The Bears brought in four kickers to audition last Tuesday, yet none of them were able to displace Boniol.
"I definitely owed it to them," Boniol said of his teammates. "I needed that kick. The team needed that kick. Today I came through at the end, and was just a little piece of the puzzle today."
The big piece, then, was Miller, who has thrown for 779 yards his last two games combined. Last week he threw an NFL season high of 422; against the Chargers he ripped a beat-up secondary for 357. They were just the second and third starts of his six-year NFL career, and Sunday was his first win as a starter.
"We all felt good, especially for Jim," Bears coach Dick Jauron said.
Miller, who completed 25 of 38 passes, threw a 31-yard pass to Marcus Robinson that set up Boniol's winning kick.
Miller also threw a 38-yard touchdown pass to Robinson and hit hm with a 30-yarder that set up Curtis Enis' 3-yard scoring run to give the Bears a 17-10 lead.
Both touchdowns came late in the third quarter of what had been a lackluster game between teams struggling to get back to .500. Chicago improved to 5-6 while the Chargers (4-6) lost their fifth straight game.
"Our offense gives the quarterback a lot of flexibility," Miller said. "You just have to make the right calls. It's evolving into a throwing offense a little more. Once we made adjustments today, we played pretty well."
Robinson caught six passes for 163 yards and Bobby Engram had eight for 121 yards.
Harbaugh, one of six former Bears with the Chargers, completed five of eight passes for 67 yards on the drive that set up Carney's kick, including a 43-yarder to ex-Bear Chris Penn. However, another former Bear, Jeff Graham, dropped a pass in the end zone that would have won it with five seconds left.
"It was a nice throw. There was perfect timing," Graham said. "No matter what, I should have had the ball."
Harbaugh, who was 29-of-46 for 273 yards, knew it would be close.
"We had seconds left and it had to be some kind of bang-bang play, with no timeouts. It was a shot and I'm glad we went for it," he said.
With several tough road games remaining, the Chargers realize they blew a big chance.
"We're 4-6 and it's very hard to go uphill in the NFL," linebacker Junior Seau said.
After having a touchdown reversed by replay officials in the final minute of the first half, Miller made one stick by hitting Robinson with a 38-yard pass down the right sideline with 5:26 left in the third quarter. The 6-foot-3 Robinson outjumped rookie safety Jason Perry at about the 2-yard line and scored for a 10-10 tie.
On Chicago's next possession, Miller drove the Bears to the Chargers 3, where Enis scored the team's third rushing touchdown this season.
Boniol kicked a 26-yard field goal for a 20-10 lead with 5:22 to play.
On their first drive, the Chargers looked like they had solved their no-offense probleby surprising the Bears with a no-huddle approach. Harbaugh completed all six of his passes for 48 yards, the final 2 going to tight end Reggie Davis for a 7-0 lead with 5:53 left in the first quarter. It was the first time this season the Chargers had scored first.
The Bears had a 15-yard touchdown pass from Miller to Engram reversed by replay with 42 seconds left in the first half. Boniol then missed a 33-yard field goal try.
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