CHICAGO -- No amount of probing could get all the answers out of Neal Anderson, not about the wind or the rain or even his 141-yard rushing performance that carried the Bears to victory over the Packers Sunday afternoon. It's not that Anderson was being uncooperative; he didn't remember. He couldn't remember.

Q: Neal, do you remember most of the game?

A: No.

In the third quarter, already suffering from bruised ribs and an injured knee, Anderson lowered his shoulder and took several Green Bay Packers to get from the 17- to the 12-yard line. You could hear helmet against helmet, in an enclosed press box, with 60,000 fans screaming. Neal Anderson didn't get up. At least not right away. Before getting up, Anderson had to wake up.

Q: Neal, were you knocked out?

A: Yeah, at least that's what I was told. I don't remember the whole game. I've got to take a look at the film. This is two concussions in a row {including one last week, compliments of the Raiders}. Something's not right. I've got to get a new helmet or something.

Anderson was helped off the field. Mike Ditka, whom you might call a persuasive fellow, told Anderson he wasn't going back in. Anderson went anyway. "He's a tough guy to keep out," Ditka said. "I tried to keep him out."

Anderson suffered the concussion on a five-yard gain that sent his rushing total to 91 yards, but his next three carries went for minus three, minus two, minus one. On the TV broadcast, John Madden said he flinched every time Anderson plunged into the line.

"We knew he was hurting," guard Tom Thayer said, "but you don't know how much. He's expressionless. He's the kind of guy who goes in the backroom, gets a shot {painkiller} and plays like hell. Some of the hits he took today were bone-jarring. He just got up and got up."

With his ribs aching, his knee throbbing and head spinning, Anderson ran 52 yards late in the fourth quarter. Without Neal Anderson, the Bears couldn't have won this game. Without Anderson, the Bears might be winless this season.

At the start of the season, someone asked Walter Payton, Mr. Bear, to name the two best running backs in the league. Payton said Eric Dickerson and the 49ers' Roger Craig.

Buzzzz. Wrong answer, Wally.

The best running back in the league is the man who replaced you. Runs it, catches it, blocks, plays hurt. Great locker room guy. Beloved by his teammates.

For some reason, Payton never has been close to Anderson, and maybe it's understandable for the greatest running back in the history of the game to be a little distant from his successor. But no team in the league is as dependent on a tailback as the Bears are on Anderson. Quarterbacks and receivers, in case you haven't noticed, aren't the Bears' thing; running backs are.

Craig, going into Sunday, was averaging 2.5 yards per carry. The Colts, at 2-3, are about as good without Dickerson as they would be with him. When asked before the season where Anderson ranks with the best backs in the league, Ditka straightened out a reporter. "What you should be asking," he said, "is where they rank with Neal."

Jimbo Covert, the Bears' left tackle who blocked six years for Payton and now five for Anderson, said: "Neal's just about irreplaceable. Look what happened last week when he barely played {because of the ribs} against the Raiders. We lost. Couldn't move the ball.

"Look, I blocked for Walter for six years, and the thing about him was he'd kill defenses, wear them out with two yards, three yards, three yards, four yards. There wasn't much chance he was going to break one because he never had that great speed but he was the best football player I ever saw. Neal can't wear on a defense like that, but he can score from anywhere on the field. What he is is the quintessential tailback."

Linebacker Brian Noble, who appeared to stick the lick that knocked out Anderson, didn't want to go too far in complimenting a Bear. "I don't want to pat him on the back," Noble said, "but he's probably the premiere back in the league."

The Bears are as dependent on Anderson in 1990 as they were on Payton in the late '70s and early '80s. That's why the team held its collective breath when Anderson had to be helped off the field after suffering the concussion. It might have been the first time in his career as a Bear -- despite 1,000-yard rushing seasons in '88 and '89 -- that he was as appreciated as he ought to be. But that's life when you follow Gale Sayers and Payton.

Now there is concern about whether Anderson can stay healthy for this entire season. "My main concern is to keep him healthy," Ditka said. "We've got a lot of games left and I want him in every one. I don't want him in for one and out for six."

Even Anderson said of his battered ribs, "It's a six-week injury and this is only the second or third week." The flak jacket he wears prevents him from carrying the ball in the normal place, which is why he fumbled without being touched during a 48-yard run.

But Anderson didn't like all this talk of ribs and flak jackets. After all, he said, how hurt could he have been having run once for 48 yards, once for 52? After the aborted 48-yarder he promised the offensive line he'd atone. He did remember that. "Yeah, I told them I owed them one."

Q: Neal, what about that wrap around your knee?

A: It's nothing major. If it had been I wouldn't have been able to run like I did. . . . Look, I'm a little dizzy, a little sore, but other than that I'm fine. {While running} I'm beating up some other people too. You all are going to make this a bigger deal than it is. Hey, it's football. You're not going to make me into a hero because I got up and played."