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As they prepared for Sunday's game with the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens, Bears players saw a chance to measure themselves and their progress as a team.
As they cut away the tape and picked up after a 17-6 loss, they didn't particularly like what they'd found out.
They were good enough to play with the champions. But then, they believed that going in, even if few outside their locker room agreed. What they found was they were not good enough to beat a good team in a game that was theirs for the taking, and that was bothersome because it has been that way for too many years now.
"They might be the world champions," said disgusted rookie receiver David Terrell, "but maybe we're better."
Not until they learn how to win, and the Bears haven't. After the Ravens played a pathetic first half, they put the Bears in a vise and slowly tightened it, and the Bears could not stop them. The Bears did not pick up their game at deciding moments, which is usually what separates Super Bowl winners from 5-11 teams.
The Bears controlled the ball for more than 21 minutes in the first half, during which they allowed the Ravens 14 rushing yards and only six first downs to their 13. They limited a Baltimore team without injured No. 1 rusher Jamal Lewis to 1.8 yards per rush and 54 rushing yards.
"There is nothing good about this game," said defensive end Phillip Daniels. "I don't care how you played. The `L' in the column is the only thing."
The Ravens converted their only meaningful takeaway, a fourth-quarter interception of a Shane Matthews pass, into a clinching touchdown on a 1-yard run by Terry Allen with just under three minutes remaining.
The Bears came away from two recovered fumbles and a Baltimore missed field goal with field position, but they converted those opportunities into just three points.
They threw away a field-goal opportunity with a personal-foul penalty on a play that reached the Baltimore 10 in the second quarter. They then gave the Ravens a chance for a field goal, which the Ravens made, with a personal-foul penalty.
The Bears played as close to a perfect game as perhaps they can on the road against a team celebrating by giving their new Lombardi Super Bowl trophy a victory lap with some of the 69,365 fans at PSINet Stadium.
They began by doing the near-impossible, not only against the Ravens but also for themselves. Only once all last season did the Bears have a scoring drive longer than the 8 minutes 33 seconds they ran off the clock on their way to Paul Edinger's 20-yard field goal in the first quarter.
But the last four of the 14 plays were run inside the Baltimore 10-yard line and none reached the end zone. It was a flashback to the 2000 season, when the Bears had the fewest touchdowns (11) of any NFL team on possessions reaching inside an opponent's 20-yard line.
"We shot ourselves in the foot," Matthews said. "We had our chances. We just didn't put the ball in the end zone when we should have. That first drive, we should have scored a touchdown. We didn't."
The Bears held that 3-0 lead until the closing moments of the half, when safety Mike Green was called for a personal foul that turned a sluggish Baltimore drive into three points. An Elvis Grbac-to-Todd Heap pass put the Ravens at the Bears' 33 with two seconds remaining, setting up either an end-zone heave or 58-yard field-goal attempt. But Green's late hit moved the ball to the 18, and Matt Stover's 37-yard field goal tied the game.
Defensive end Bryan Robinson's recovery of a fumble on Baltimore's opening possession of the third quarter set up a 46-yard Edinger field goal. But from that point on the Bears managed just 24 total yards of offense to 177 for the Ravens in a stretch of opportunities squandered by the offense.
Baltimore took its first lead on an 11-play drive covering 87 yards late in the third quarter. More notably, perhaps, the drive was preceded by the Bears gaining possession at the Baltimore 44 and running three plays for minus-5 yards.
Cornerback Jerry Azumah recovered a fumble at the Bears' 40 midway through the fourth quarter, presenting an opportunity for a go-ahead drive. But Matthews threw into double coverage and had his pass tipped by linebacker Jamie Sharper and intercepted by linebacker Ray Lewis.
"I tried to throw a line drive in there," Matthews said. "If I had put a little more air under it, [the Baltimore safety] might have had a kill shot [hit on receiver Marty Booker]."
Five plays later, Allen eased into the end zone and the Bears were finished.
"There certainly is no consolation in that [game]," said coach Dick Jauron.
"I don't know anything good about it."