The unbeaten Chicago Bears escaped their second scare of the NFL season from Tampa Bay today, rallying for 24 second-half points to subdue the Buccaneers, 27-19.
Until Walter Payton scored his second touchdown, 52 seconds from the end, the margin of difference between the Bears (5-0) and Buccaneers (0-5) was a missed Tampa Bay extra point.
Payton became the sixth man in NFL history to score 100 career touchdowns.
The offensive show directed by quarterback Jim McMahon after intermission was impressive, but Chicago Coach Mike Ditka said defense was the key.
The Bears held James Wilder, the NFL's leading rusher, to 29 yards on 18 carries and withstood a 346-yard passing day by Steve DeBerg.
The 5-0 start is the Bears' best since 1963 when Chicago won its last NFL championship. Wilder was out for a record-tying seventh consecutive 100-yard game, so stopping his bid to match O.J. Simpson and Earl Campbell was a bonus.
"We didn't let Wilder go crazy and that helped us," said Ditka, who saw his team fall behind, 12-0, then come back from a 28-17 halftime deficit in the season opener to win over Tampa Bay, 38-28. "One thing about this team . . . We may get behind, but we're not going to quit."
"Our comeback shows the kind of character we have on this ball club," said McMahon. "We came out kind of flat . . . and I played a lot of foolish football."
League passing leader McMahon's 10th touchdown completion of the season -- Dennis McKinnon's sixth scoring reception -- cut Tampa Bay's 12-3 halftime lead to 12-10. Kevin Butler's 31-yard field goal gave Chicago a 13-12 advantage as time expired in the third quarter, and Payton's 100th touchdown covered the final four yards of 10-play, 77-yard drive that made it 20-12 with 7:51 left in the game.
DeBerg came back with a 25-yard pass to Gerald Carter and it was 20-19 with 5:21 to go.
McMahon finally helped close it out, with a 49-yard completion to Willie Gault setting up Payton touchdown No. 101.
McMahon was 14 for 17 in the second half and Tampa Bay rookie defensive end Ron Holmes exclaimed, "McMahon was the difference. Sometimes I wondered today if God was on his side."