There will be bigger games, in bigger arenas with bigger consequences.
But for this Sunday, the Bears' 20-13 victory over the Buffalo Bills was, well, really big.
A Soldier Field crowd of 62,406 watched an unpredictable Bears team, which was embarrassed 42-14 two weeks ago against Minnesota, vault into a first-place tie with the Vikings with a 3-2 record in the NFC Central. The Vikings lost to Arizona while Detroit fell to Tampa Bay and Green Bay was edged by New England.
Quarterback Steve Walsh, subbing for the injured Erik Kramer for the second straight game, delivered yet another upset triumph. He completed 19 of 28 passes for 160 yards and one touchdown against the four-time defending AFC champions.
Coach Dave Wannstedt said Walsh has earned another start against his former team, the New Orleans Saints, next Sunday at Soldier Field. Besides, Kramer could use another week or two to heal his partially separated right shoulder. The Bears are off Oct. 16.
"This is an emotional game and our only chance of having success is if we're playing with a lot of emotion," Wannstedt said. "Last week (a 19-7 win over the Jets) we set a standard of what that level has to be, and our players responded today."
Rookie fullback Raymont Harris, stepping in for injured starter Merril Hoge, out with a concussion and lacerated chin, came through with 45 yards on 11 carries and four catches for 16 yards.
The Bears' much-maligned defense got clutch interceptions by cornerbacks Jeremy Lincoln and Donnell Woolford and key sacks by Alonzo Spellman and Trace Armstrong.
"Our attitude is different," Spellman said. "The way we come into the game, our outlook on the game ... our mind-set is different. Even the first game (a 21-9 win over Tampa Bay), we weren't fired up when we went out. It was like, `OK, we won a game.' But now guys are high-fiving each other in practice and they keep encouraging each other in practice. The guys have responded well to that."
The Bills rushed for 105 yards against the league's worst run defense, including 78 on 18 carries by Kenneth Davis, a worthy stand-in for injured All-Pro Thurman Thomas, but less threatening.
"Kenny Davis has stepped in other games and done good things," said Bills coach Marv Levy. "We want Thurman Thomas, sure. We miss a player of his ability. That is not the reason we lost."
The Bills took a 3-0 lead with 7 minutes 26 seconds left in the first period on a 28-yard field goal by Steve Christie. A 59-yard punt return by Jeff Burris set up the score.
The Bears grabbed a 7-3 lead when Walsh passed 13 yards to tight end Chris Gedney, who pulled in the toss with one hand at the back end of the end zone like a fisherman reeling in the big one.
"That's a one-in-a-million type of play," Gedney said. "I think it will be a while before you see me do something like that again. I looked behind me and saw Steve getting ready to throw it ... and I couldn't believe he was throwing because I was covered. But, you know, it's pretty much sticking your hand out there and you're either going to come up with a great catch or it's going to be a drop."
The officials, who could not believe what they had just seen, conferred after the touchdown signal to discuss whether Gedney managed to keep his feet inbounds.
"We work on that every day after practice-catching the ball and trying to keep your feet in," Gedney said. "But I think what really happened was that I caught the ball and my shoulder landed in before I landed out of bounds."
Christie added his second field goal, this time from 30 yards, to pull the the Bills within 7-6 with :21 left in the half. He has made all 11 of his field-goal attempts this season.
Kevin Butler answered with a 50-yard field goal early in the third period to give the Bears a 10-6 advantage. The kick was the first 50-yarder in the NFL this season. The league was 0 for 18 from that distance and beyond entering the weekend.
The Bills (3-2) regained the lead 13-10 when Jim Kelly passed 15 yards to tight end Pete Metzelaars. Kelly was limited to 19 of 33 completions for a season-low 116 yards. He was sacked twice and intercepted twice.
The Bears went ahead 17-13 on a fourth-down quarterback sneak by Walsh at 11:25 of the fourth period. It was Walsh's first career rushing TD.
"We're going to try to be as aggressive as we can to give our players the best chance to win," said Wannstedt, whose team was successful on two of three fourth-down plays.
"I thought Walsh did very well," said Levy. "I give him a lot of respect, but we had it coming in."
Butler booted a 20-yard field goal to make it 20-13 with 3:08 left. The Bears advanced to the Bills' 1 before an incomplete pass and two rushing attempts by Lewis Tillman failed to cross the goal line.
Tillman averaged only 2.5 yards a carry on 19 attempts.
The Bears should be in the unfamiliar role of favorite when the Saints (2-3) come marching into Soldier Field on Sunday.
"It will be exciting to be going against guys I've practiced with a lot and with whom I've been through some battles," Walsh said. "But when you get on the field, you want to beat them pretty bad."
bears 20, bills 13