CHICAGO, NOV. 1 -- Maybe one Sunday soon the Chicago Bears will get back to their frightening, ransacking, batter-the-quarterback brand of football. Today, the Bears' own quarterback, Jim McMahon, led Chicago out of the wilderness.

The Bears' defense uncharacteristically allowed Kansas City to run up 14-point leads twice in Soldier Field. But McMahon, in his first start in nearly a year, scorched the Chiefs for two fourth-quarter touchdowns to lead the Bears to a 31-28 victory.

McMahon threw three touchdown passes, including two to Willie Gault in the fourth quarter that enabled the Bears to complete a comeback from a deficit that stood at 28-14 for most of the third quarter. McMahon took the game away from Kansas City, and even from his coach, Mike Ditka.

In seasons past, Ditka would rant at McMahon on the sideline for running a play the coaching staff didn't call. But in the third quarter, Ditka asked McMahon to call his own plays, and McMahon responded by abandoning the running game almost completely and going heavily with a hurry-up offense the team rarely uses. That kept the Chiefs out of position and unable to substitute.

McMahon completed 23 of 34 passes for 287 yards and the three touchdowns, as the Bears won for the 24th consecutive time in games McMahon has started. Of course, there was a catch. McMahon suffered a leg injury before halftime, and doesn't know what his status will be for next week. "I'd like to keep this one-game starting streak going," he quipped.

For the past four seasons, the Bears have won because of their defense and the best running offense in the league. Not lately. Last week, McMahon bailed out his teammates with fourth-quarter heroics in Tampa. But stirring comebacks have a way of obscuring things.

Today, the 1986 Super Bowl champions looked vulnerable as Kansas City, which came in with a 1-5 record, rolled up nearly 400 yards of offense, holding the Chicago backs to 74 yards on the ground.

It was enough to make a few Bears defenders apologize, even in victory.

"There's no question we {the defense} are embarrassed," Dave Duerson, Chicago's all-pro safety, said. "I know I'm embarrassed and everybody on the defensive side of the ball should be, too. We can't keep expecting the offense to bail us out like they have the last couple of weeks. I mean, we are the Bears. We'd rather do it ourselves."

But the defense couldn't do it as usual. Neither could the running attack, which has led the league in rushing four consecutive years coming into this season. Walter Payton, the league's all-time leading rusher, had eight carries for 15 yards.

It's obvious Payton has slowed down tremendously. He's still the best blocking back on the team, and therefore still the team's best fullback. But as a rusher, Payton can't even be a decoy because he's not much of a threat. On first down, Payton carried eight times for 11 yards. His longest gain of the day went for five yards.

Coming into the game, many people expected Payton to break loose. Ditka even said the team would get back to running the ball because that, after all, is what the Bears do. But the game plan never went into effect because the Bears were down, 14-0, after veteran Bill Kenney shredded Chicago's defense and threw for two first-quarter touchdowns.

Even after Dennis Gentry's 88-yard touchdown run got the Bears back in it, 14-7, Chicago still had to throw. "As Mike Tyson said last week, everybody has a game plan, until he gets hit," Payton said. "We had a game plan, to get the running game started. But you have to give Kansas City credit for making us alter that."

Today's game marked the 11th straight game Payton has been unable to rush for 100 yards, the longest such streak in his 13-year career. In fact, it has taken four game this season for Payton to pass 100 yards. When someone asked if Payton was frustrated, he smiled, patted the questioner and said, "Now, do I look frustrated?"

When the topic of him having another big rushing day was broached, Payton said, "It doesn't matter, as long as we're winning. Getting back to the Super Bowl and winning it supersedes anything else."

Payton complimented McMahon, echoing Ditka's comments that this is a team and no one person, or unit, need feel responsible for winning or losing.

In fact, Payton was responsible for the best blocks of the day. And the defense, after letting the team fall behind, 28-14, held Kansas City to minus-one yard in three possessions after that. When Kansas City did pull itself together and get a 51-yard completion from Kenney to Stephone Paige, the Chicago defense recovered by forcing rookie fullback Christian Okoye to fumble on the next play, inside the 20.

Don't tell Chiefs Coach Frank Gansz the Bears' defense looks vulnerable. "They have some weapons in their arsenal that are unbelievable," he said. "Their three linebackers are the best in the NFL."

Once one of those linebackers, Wilber Marshall, had forced the fumble, it was up to McMahon. The Bears were still trailing, 28-24. But nine plays after that fumble, McMahon hit Gault for 38 yards for a touchdown. Game over.

"This is not the way the Bears usually pull out victories," McMahon said. "But maybe it sends a message to the rest of the league that you might have the Bears down, but not out."

Kansas City 14 7 7 0 28 Chicago 7 7 3 14 31

First Quarter

KC -- Carson 29 pass from Kenney (Lowery kick), 5:42

KC -- Hayes 15 pass from Kenney (Lowery kick), 9:41

C -- Gentry 88 kickoff return (Butler kick), 10:00 Second Quarter

C -- Boso 28 pass from McMahon (Butler kick), 9:55

KC -- Moriarty 4 pass from Kenney (Lowery kick), 15:00 Third Quarter

KC -- Paige 43 pass from Kenney (Lowery kick), 3:17

C -- FG Butler 27, 12:30 Fourth Quarter

C -- Gault 25 pass from McMahon (Butler kick), 1:37

C -- Gault 38 pass from McMahon (Butler kick), 10:16

A -- 63,498

Chiefs Bears First downs 20 20 Rushes-yards 34-111 30-80 Passing yards 256 263 Return yards 0 29 Passing 15-28-1 23-34-1 Sacked-yards lost 2-14 5-24 Punts-average 5-36 2-23 Fumbles-lost 3-1 1-1 Penalties-yards 7-45 3-25 Time of possession 30:36

RUSHING -- Kansas City: Okoye 22-93, Moriarty 7-12, Heard 3-5, Kenney 2-1. Chicago: Anderson 17-59, Payton

PASSING -- Kansas City: Kenney 15-28-1, 270 yards. Chicago: McMahon 23-34-1, 287.

RECEIVING -- Kansas City: Carson 7-117, Paige 5-121, Hayes 1-15, Heard 1-13, Moriarty 1-4. Chicago: Anderso

MISSED FIELD GOALS -- Chicago, Butler 52.