Shoop makes best of it

The debris, including at least one bottle aimed at an official, had barely settled on the field when John Shoop jogged into the dressing room under his own assault from above.

"Shoop, you [stink]," his detractors yelled as the Bears' offensive coordinator purposefully stared at them.

To some extent, Shoop has become accustomed to the abuse that has come his way from dissatisfied Bears fans for most of this season and, for that matter, much of last year as well.

But this should have been a moment of triumph or at least some satisfaction for the young architect of the Bears' offense.

The Bears had scored more points (30) Sunday against the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots than they have in a game all season. They produced 125 yards on the ground to tie their season high.

And Shoop, bucking the most common criticism against him, had seemingly loosened up with two gadget plays that actually worked—a 26-yard halfback pass from Leon Johnson to Marty Booker leading to a second-quarter field goal and a 44-yard third-quarter touchdown pass from Booker to Marcus Robinson.

"You have to use the weapons you have," Robinson said, "and Shoop pulled those out of his hat."

Shoop said he was motivated in part because Jim Miller was limited in how far he could throw by elbow and shoulder tendinitis. Johnson's pass came on the first play for Miller, who replaced starter Chris Chandler after Chandler sprained his neck on a sneak.

But Shoop's game plan obviously was constrained by Miller's injury. On the final series of the game, Shoop said he considered putting third quarterback Henry Burris into the game because Miller could heave the ball only so far.

Burris "had gotten loose," Shoop said. "We had two timeouts, so we could still use the middle of the field. Had we had no timeouts, we would've put Henry in to try to launch one."

Miller, as is his style, not only said he could have thrown the ball as far as necessary, but also bristled when asked if the Bears were reluctant to run a sneak on third-and-1 in their second-to-last offensive series.

"I would've run it," he said. "I would've been more than happy to run it."

If Shoop has been left guessing about Miller's condition, he seemed Sunday to have handled it better than before.

"Jim's a pretty stoic person," Shoop said, "so anytime I asked him how it was, it was, 'I'm fine, just call it,' so you have to weigh all those things. He's as tough as they come.

"[But] did we make some adjustments? Yeah, we pulled out all the stops and I think you saw the downfield plays with [Johnson] and [Booker]. It's no secret [Miller] was dinged up and that was one way we were going to try to use anything we could to get the ball downfield."

Shoop was, as usual, upbeat after what has to be one of the most disappointing defeats as coordinator. As the rest of the Bears' dressing room simmered, his defensive counterpart, Greg Blache, railing at questions he interpreted as "second-guessing," Shoop praised the most pointed of inquiries and once again pledged that continued hard work and diligence would turn things around.

They were both off base.

No one was attacking Blache the way he anticipated, and hard work and diligence is obviously not going to do it.

"I don't know what to say anymore," right guard Chris Villarrial said. "If we'd won, we'd still have been 3-6, but it would have turned some of the emotions around and given the guys confidence going into St. Louis. It's just so frustrating. We're 2-7 right now and it's looking grim."

Villarrial, as did the others, said they must stick together, that they can't fragment now and, for whatever that's worth anymore, they're heeding their own advice. But the debris keeps raining on their heads, the football gods as well as their own shortcomings dragging them into one of those seasons in which careers and franchises are permanently altered.

"It's everything," left end Phillip Daniels said. "Replays, the referees, everything is working against us. I just feel nothing is going right now."

Even the most talkative have run out of things to say.

"I have no words for it anymore," Robinson said. "This game is the way our season has gone. The devil is out there still trying to get us and all we can do is keep our heads up and keep going."