CHICAGO (AP) – The Chicago Bears earned homefield advantage throughout the playoffs the hard way.

Chicago blew a 24-3 second-half lead Sunday and then recovered with big plays from backups Rashied Davis and Adrian Peterson in overtime to beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 34-31.

Robbie Gould, who’d missed earlier in overtime from 37 yards, connected on a 25-yard field goal with 3:37 left to give the Bears the victory.

The win, coupled with Washington’s upset of New Orleans, clinched the homefield advantage for the Bears (12-2). The NFC North champions had already earned a first-round bye.

Gould’s field goal came after Davis made an over-the-shoulder catch of 28 yards on a third-and-8 pass from Rex Grossman to get to the ball to the Tampa Bay 20.

Peterson, Chicago’s third-team tailback, then had runs of 2 and 11 yards to move the ball to the 7.

Trailing by three TDs in the third quarter, the Bucs (3-11) stunned the Bears with three fourth-quarter touchdowns, tying the game on Tim Rattay’s 44-yard TD pass to Ike Hilliard with 3:44 left.

Rattay, who replaced the struggling Bruce Gradkowski in the first half, also had a 64-yard TD pass to Joe Galloway that capped a 95-yard drive in the final quarter.

Tampa Bay ended a 13-quarter drought without a touchdown when Mike Alstott scored on a 14-yard run with 25 seconds left in the third quarter.

That made it 24-10 and moments later the Bucs got back in the game when Bears’ rookie kick return star Devin Hester – who had two TDs last Monday – fumbled the ensuing kickoff after a hit by Blue Adams with Wesly Mallard recovering at the Chicago 16.

Rattay hit Alex Smith with a 9-yard TD pass early in the fourth and suddenly the Bucs were within a touchdown.

But Grossman, who finished 29-of-44 for 339 yards, hit four straight passes in a 77-yard drive, connecting with Clark on an 18-yarder, and Cedric Benson’s 4-yard TD run made it a two-touchdown advantage with 9:23 to go.

But the Bears couldn’t put it away.

Clark caught seven passes for 125 yards and a pair of touchdowns, all but one of the receptions coming in the first half when the Bears built a 21-3 lead.

Bears starting nose tackle Tank Johnson, arrested Thursday for possession of firearms without proper identification, was inactive for the game. Early Saturday morning, Johnson was at a downtown Chicago bar when his friend, Willie B. Posey, was shot to death during a fight.

A team spokesman said Johnson was not at Soldier Field on Sunday.

Hester, who has an NFL-record six returns for TDs this season, lined up as a wide receiver late in the first quarter but Grossman’s pass to him on the outside was too way low and incomplete. Hester fumbled three times on kicks, losing just one.

Notes: The Bucs managed just two first downs and 64 total yards in the first half. Rattay finished 20-of-35 for 268 yards. … The Bears played without starting left tackle John Tait (ankle) and defensive back Nathan Vasher (hamstring), who were inactive. … The Bucs have lost 7 of 8. … Clark’s 100-yard receiving game was the first by a Bears tight end since Emery Moorehead had 114 against the Bucs in 1985. … Chicago Pro Bowl center Olin Kreutz got a personal foul penalty for running to a pile and kneeing a Tampa Bay player.

AP-ES-12-17-06 1730EST


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.