LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) -While the defense has issues and the running game struggles, the Chicago Bears are suddenly using a new, radical way to win.
They're taking to the air.
The Bears are 4-3 and tied with Green Bay heading into their bye, and - that's right - they can thank their passing game. It's a surprising turn for a franchise that has spent nearly six decades trying to replace Sid Luckman.
``Once you turn it around, everybody's all shocked, but going into the season we knew we had a chance to be a good offense and make plays in the passing game,'' veteran receiver Marty Booker said. ``And the good thing about it is everybody's been playing their role, doing what they're capable of doing and doing whatever it takes to help this team win.''
The Bears vowed their once-dominant defense would return to form this season, but so far, that promise is an empty one.
nly two teams have allowed more yards passing per game even though Chicago is limiting opponents to 6.4 per catch.
Even so, there are issues.
Injuries to starting cornerbacks Nathan Vasher and Charles Tillman haven't helped, but the defense was shaky before they got hurt. There have been problems on the line, where Pro Bowl tackle Tommie Harris has struggled, and linebacker Brian Urlacher has been a nonfactor.
More surprising, the Bears lead the NFL with 196 points and are averaging 28 per game - third in the league - even though they're not gaining much on the ground.
Rookie Matt Forte made an impressive debut at Indianapolis, going off for 123 yards as Chicago took the opener 29-13, but is averaging just 3.5 yards per carry.
Quarterback Kyle Orton, however, is enjoying a breakout season.
After beating Rex Grossman for the starting job in the preseason, he's sixth in the league with 1,669 yards, 10 touchdowns and four interceptions, none in the past three games.
``We have receivers that have been around for a while and made plays - Marty Booker and some other guys who have been good football players,'' Orton said. ``So it's not like we don't have the talent. We're a running football team and we always like to establish that, but in the last few weeks it's kind of seemed like the passing game's been the way to go.''
Muhsin Muhammad once said Chicago ``is where receivers go to die.''
No team has more players with at least 200 yards receiving than the Bears, who have six, and only New Orleans has as many.
Wide receivers Rashied Davis (254 yards), Devin Hester (215) and Brandon Lloyd (249) all have more than 200 yards for Chicago, as do tight ends Greg Olsen (296) and Desmond Clark (205), and Forte (223). Booker is not far off with 183 yards.
These are the Bears? This is a franchise built on strong defense and a grind-it-out offense? What in the name of Butkus and Sayers, and Singletary and Payton, is going on?
While the Bears aren't exactly using the run 'n shoot, they are running a more open and quick offense.
They went with the no-huddle in their win over Philadelphia on Sept. 28 and have been using it more and more in the past month.
``I knew it would come,'' said Booker, who returned to the Bears after four seasons in Miami. ``It was just a matter of time. It finally turned around and now we've got that going.''
Orton's confidence is growing. Question is: Can he keep this going?
In 2006, Grossman played at a Pro Bowl level the first six weeks, but was inconsistent the rest of the season even though the Bears went to the Super Bowl. He struggled again last year, and ultimately lost the job before this season.
receiving corps after Bernard Berrian signed with Minnesota and Muhammad was released. The Bears brought back Booker, a former Pro Bowl pick who spent his first five years in Chicago, and added Lloyd while giving Hester a bigger role on offense.
They also let running back Cedric Benson go after two alcohol-related arrests and drafted Forte in the second round. But the biggest difference is in Orton.
``You can't say enough about what he's done,'' Olsen said. ``The stats speak for themselves and all the other things: getting us in and out of plays, making adjustments on the fly, running the no-huddle offense. Just a ton of things that he's doing better.''
Last week, Booker and Orton connected on a 51-yard touchdown in the third quarter, but more impressive was the strike to Olsen in the opening period. Orton zipped the ball over the middle between two defenders to his tight end for an 18-yard TD - the sort of pass he would not have attempted, let alone completed, as a rookie three years ago.
``It definitely goes to confidence,'' offensive coordinator Ron Turner said. ``To have that and know it's a tight hole and have the confidence to throw that only comes with playing, having success and getting reps.''

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