LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) – No hiding the obvious for the Chicago Bears. During their eight-game winning streak – their longest in 20 years – the defense’s dominant play has compensated for a sputtering passing game.

“When you say the defense has carried us, that’s what they’re supposed to do,” coach Lovie Smith said Monday, a day after Chicago pounded on Brett Favre and rode two big interceptions to a 19-7 win over Green Bay.

“That’s the strength of our team. That and our running game is supposed to carry us,” Smith added.

“But we need to improve our quarterback play. We need to improve our passing game as a whole. So anyone involved in the passing game needs to pick it up a little bit in order for us to continue this path to win our division and to get into the playoffs.”

Rookie Kyle Orton completed only six of 17 passes Sunday, top receiver Muhsin Muhammad was shut out for the first time since 2002 and the Bears were 0-for-10 on third-down conversions – numbers that usually won’t get any team to the playoff. Thomas Jones did run for 93 yards to reach 1,000 for the first time in his career.

Smith was still not budging Monday as the clamor grew for Rex Grossman’s return to replace Orton, who has a quarterback rating of 60.2. Grossman, who broke his ankle in the preseason, was the third quarterback Sunday and could elevated to backup for Sunday’s game at Pittsburgh.

But Smith was sticking with Orton. The Bears haven’t won eight in a row since their 1985 Super Bowl team started that season 12-0.

“He’s quarterbacked us to eight wins in a row and nine on the season. His leadership ability to get the job done,” Smith said, listing Orton’s strengths.

“Things he needs to improve on a little bit, accuracy probably. But you say that about most young quarterbacks. But I’m going to look at what he’s done overall. You can look at his quarterback rating. Of course it isn’t exactly what you would like for your quarterback rating to be, and then in the end I’m going to look at how many games he’s won and figure he can do the job.”

So far, the Bears’ defense has done a lot of the work and continued that trend Sunday. Charles Tillman’s 95-yard interception return set up a field goal and Nathan Vasher – as he seems to do every week – returned another pick 45 yards for a game-clinching touchdown.

Vasher has seven interceptions this season and also a 108-yard return of a missed field goal for a TD, the longest play in NFL history. Tillman has picked off four passes, including one he returned for a TD in overtime against the Lions.

When Smith became coach before last season, he pledged to build a defense that could not only stop opponents, but score points. And the Bears have done just that.

Chicago has returned eight interceptions for TDs in Smith’s first two seasons, including three this year.

“I really believe in our system that we have,” Smith said. “It’s not like we’re figuring it out on the run. Our system has a proven success rate. We know that it works and we have great players in our scheme.”

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