Out of sync—and sinking

With his arms extended and his palms facing the sky, quarterback Chris Chandler made the universal signal for "huh?" as he looked toward the Bears' sideline.

Seven seconds remained in Sunday's 23-21 loss to the St. Louis Rams, and the Bears had run out of timeouts and, apparently, answers.

A 31-yard field goal by Jeff Wilkins with 38 seconds left backed the Bears into a desperate corner that seemed all too familiar. Only a week earlier, the Lions had kicked a game-winning field goal in the final minute and left it up to the Bears' offense to save the day.

It didn't then, and it didn't Sunday, when things fell apart on fourth-and-6 from the Rams' 40 on the final play of a frenetic drive.

A rushed Chandler got flushed from the pocket and heaved a prayer in the general direction of Dez White that fell incomplete, which aptly described the Bears' feelings as they walked off the field.

"It kind of [ticks] you off because you don't know what happened," tight end Desmond Clark said. "You had an opportunity to win the game on the last play and we weren't ready for it. That's the situation we practice for every Thursday and Friday."

All that practice made for an imperfect ending.

Inside the Bears' huddle, Chandler's headset cut off when the play clock hit 15. Chandler didn't hear quarterbacks coach Greg Olson finish the call but correctly guessed the rest of the play sent down from the booth.

But something was lost in the translation: Chandler said the play called for three receivers to go long and hope for the best, while offensive coordinator John Shoop said it called for short patterns that allowed enough time for one more play.

The whole drive looked out of sync, from White's decision not to run out of bounds with an 11-yard reception on first down that wasted at least 10 seconds to the final, frenzied snap.

"I just got the first part of the formation and sent everybody deep," Chandler said. "We really didn't have any choice."

But they did. Coach Dick Jauron decided against trying a 58-yard field goal because kicker Paul Edinger told him the ball needed to be at the 35 to be within his range.

Edinger tried a 58-yarder on Sept. 22, 2002, against New Orleans and has made two from 50 this season, but neither he nor Jauron felt like gambling with the game on the line.

"It was too long of a kick for him," Jauron said. "He's very good about that, very factual, telling us what he could do and what he can't do."

Afterward, Edinger offered no apologies for being honest.

"What's comfortable in the NFL from 55 yards?" said Edinger, who also missed a 34-yarder in the second quarter. "I told them the 35. … It was a bad day for everyone."

Nothing illustrated that more vividly than the sight of Bears defensive end Alex Brown wiping tears out of his eyes in the corner of the locker room. Brown continued a solid season with four tackles and a sack against All-Pro offensive tackle Orlando Pace. But again the Bears' defense let too many isolated breakdowns ruin a day of overall improvement, including four sacks.

"We gave that game away," defensive tackle Bryan Robinson said. "We definitely did."

The first sign of collapse came on fourth-and-1 at the Rams' 40 with the Bears leading 14-3 and coach Mike Martz feeling lucky. The Rams handed the ball to Marshall Faulk, who squirted left through linebacker Brian Urlacher's hole for a 52-yard gain down to the Bears' 8.

Two plays later, quarterback Marc Bulger hit Torry Holt for a 4-yard TD pass.

"I don't know what happened," Urlacher said. "You get through the first wave, you're going to run for a while."

The defense had a chance to make amends with a 21-20 lead to protect when the Rams took over at the 20 with 2 minutes 41 seconds left.

But on third-and-10, cornerback R.W. McQuarters lost track of Holt, and Bulger hit him for a 21-yard gain. On the next play, rookie linebacker Lance Briggs got called for illegal contact, which gave the Rams a first down. The play after that, rookie cornerback Charles Tillman was called for illegal use of the hands on receiver Isaac Bruce, and a sense of inevitability invaded Soldier Field.

"They didn't call a [pass-interference penalty] until the end of the game," Urlacher complained. "I don't know if it was something different in our DBs or what."

The play that set the stage for the Rams' final drive also irked the Bears, constant critics of officials. Punter Brad Maynard had pinned the Rams at the 1 with 2:41 left, or so it appeared. Ahmad Merritt had hustled down and his momentum carried him into the end zone, where he slid. The official ruled that Merritt had reached back and touched the ball while in the end zone, making it a touchback and bringing the ball out to the 20.

Merritt denied touching the ball, and Jauron defended his player.

"I don't think he touched the ball, and I saw the replay on the screen," Jauron said.

The Bears already had used up their two official challenges—on Marty Booker's 8-yard catch with 3:44 left in the fourth quarter and during an onside kick the Rams recovered with 3:48 left in the third.

The recovery of that kick proved to be as significant as any play in the game. The Bears knew it was coming and even discussed it before taking the field. But somehow the Rams' Arlen Harris came out of the scrum holding the football that allowed St. Louis to hold possession for 9 minutes 31 seconds straight.

"I grabbed the ball with my left arm, and then everybody jumped on and started grabbing," Bears linebacker Bryan Knight said. "It's crazy when you can't get up because body parts are left on the ground. But I had it; that's what's so frustrating to me."

The Bears also argued that the ball hit Courtland Bullard of the Rams before traveling 10 yards and special-teamer Bobby Gray had been blocked before it had.

"I don't agree with the call and don't think they should have been awarded the ball," Jauron said.

After seven losses, the Bears have lost track of what they considered bad calls, not to mention bad breaks. The difference between a 3-7 record and 5-5 may look like a crevice, but it feels like a canyon emotionally.

"I don't know, man," said Booker, bowing his head. "You're not going to get calls like that when you're 3-7 and the [pits] of the league. And we didn't."