CHICAGO – Nathan Vasher struck again, and the Chicago Bears stamped themselves as a contender in the NFC.

One week after returning a missed field goal a record 108 yards, Vasher intercepted two passes Sunday for the NFC North leaders in a 13-3 victory over the Carolina Panthers. It was Chicago’s sixth straight win.

The NFC South-leading Panthers (7-3) saw their six-game win streak end. After scoring at least 20 points in every game, they managed 238 yards against the NFL’s No. 1 defense.

Vasher’s first pick led to a 3-yard touchdown reception for former Panther Muhsin Muhammad, and the second resulted in a 33-yard field goal by Robbie Gould in the first quarter. The second-year pro has six interceptions.

Adewale Ogunleye had three sacks, and Alex Brown added two and forced two fumbles for the Bears (7-3).

Muhammad had six receptions for 49 yards and a touchdown against his former team but dropped several passes.

Thomas Jones ran for 87 yards on 25 attempts after missing last week’s 17-9 victory over San Francisco with sore ribs. Adrian Peterson carried four times in the second half for 37 yards after rushing for 120 while filling in for Jones and Cedric Benson against the 49ers. Benson sprained a ligament in his right knee in the second quarter of that game and is out indefinitely.

Kyle Orton was 15-of-26 for 136 yards, a touchdown and interception.

Fred Miller started at right tackle for the Bears after missing last week’s game with a broken jaw – the result of a punch to the face from center Olin Kreutz during an altercation at an FBI shooting range in the Chicago area on Nov. 7. The FBI launched an internal investigation into the incident.

Carolina’s Steve Smith, the NFL’s leader with 937 yards receiving entering the game, caught 14 passes for 169 yards. But others struggled.

Jake Delhomme was 22-of-38 for 235 yards and two interceptions, and the Panthers rushed for just 55 yards.

None of the Bears’ previous five wins were against teams with winning records, and the only blowout was a 28-3 victory over Minnesota on Oct. 16. They beat Baltimore by four, Detroit by six in overtime, New Orleans by three and San Francisco by eight, thanks in part to Vasher’s record return.

One week after winds whipped through Soldier Field at up to 47 mph, wreaking havoc on the passing and kicking games, there was just a light breeze.

Yet, the Panthers turned it over on their first possession.

On third down, Vasher intercepted Delhomme at the Chicago 46 and was knocked out of bounds at the 8. After having a pass batted at the line on second down, Orton found Muhammad about a step behind the goal line for a 3-yard touchdown and 7-0 lead.

Vasher’s second interception came with about 6:40 left in the quarter; this time, he intercepted Delhomme at the 40 and returned it to the 18.

AP-ES-11-20-05 1638EST


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