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A Sunday that began with hope drawn from a week-ago win over the once-hated Green Bay Packers ended as many have lately for the Bears at Soldier Field--in ignominy.
But this time it was worse. In a season of lows, a new one was reached.
At the end of the 31-10 loss to the New Orleans Saints, incensed fans were cheering for the Saints and calling for them to knock quarterback Cade McNown out of the game. After McNown's final pass was intercepted in the end zone, the spectacle degenerated further into something from the past.
As the players trudged off the field, a couple of hundred fans began an almost gladiatorial scene, turning thumbs up or thumbs down, Chicago style, as the Bears ran past.
Defensive coordinator Greg Blache and offensive coordinator Gary Crowton. Expletives and denunciations. Thumbs down.
Rookie linebacker Brian Urlacher, who had a sack in his fourth straight game. A roar of cheers. Thumbs up. Rookie safety Mike Brown, whose return of an interception in the first quarter gave the Bears their only touchdown. More cheers.
McNown, surrounded by five security guards. An unrestrained torrent of abuse. Thumbs down.
Quarterback Jim Miller. A chant of "Miller, Miller, Miller, Miller." Thumbs up.
Coach Dick Jauron. More expletives. Thumbs down.
And so it went, even in the tunnel. As the players filed slowly toward the locker room, not even Chairman Michael McCaskey, the man who hired Jauron, wanted to be around. McCaskey ducked out and away the way most of the crowd of 54,477 already had, the 12,467 no-shows having long before voiced their displeasure with their absences.
The Bears (1-5) gave their fans few reasons to show up or stay. They undid any positive momentum from the Green Bay victory and replaced it with another step toward a lost season. The defeat was the Bears' eighth in their last 10 games under Jauron. It was also their eighth in 11 games at Soldier Field during his tenure, in which the Bears have gone 7-15--the same as in the final 22 games with Dave Wannstedt, the coach McCaskey fired and replaced with Jauron.
"We need a winning streak bad," said defensive end Bryan Robinson. "We need to make up for lost time. The only way we can put on a winning streak is if we play well through all three phases of the game. We need to get this thing rolling right now. We're losing momentum. We thought we gained some last week beating Green Bay, and we just lost some."
The offense for New Orleans (2-3), ranked 24th in the NFL in yardage and with only five offensive touchdowns in its previous four games, outscored the Bears' offense. Running back Ricky Williams alone outrushed (128-72) and outscored (6-3) the Bears' offense with his 2-yard touchdown dive in the third quarter for the Saints' 24-7 lead. Even the Bears' defenseoutscored the Bears' offense, with Brown intercepting a Jeff Blake pass early in the first quarter and returning it 35 yards for a touchdown.
The usually mild-mannered and positive Crowton launched into the offensive players in a rare halftime diatribe, but nothing helped for a unit that with all its personnel struggles seems lost.
"Once all of us understand what we are going to do in every given situation, I think we'll be all right," said receiver Eddie Kennison, who led the Bears with a game-high eight catches. "We have to sit down and discuss when we watch the tapes; find the miscues, what the wrong assignments were. I know I had a couple. We need to try to get on the same page for next week."
New Orleans outgained the Bears 403-245, the only marvel being that the Saints didn't gain more, considering they had the ball 38 minutes 28 seconds to 21:32 for the Bears, the widest disparity in time of possession over the last two seasons. The Saints spotted the Bears the Brown touchdown, then scored 24 straight points before a 38-yard Paul Edinger field goal got the Bears to 24-10 early in the fourth quarter. By then it was too late, and the Saints embarrassed the Bears with a 29-yard touchdown from Blake to tight end Andrew Glover when the Bears tried an all-out blitz on fourth-and-5.
That score, which capped a 90-yard drive, finished off the Bears. It was the Saints' fourth touchdown drive of 76 yards or longer against a defense that couldn't get itself off the field after the Bears' offense couldn't stay on it.
"I don't think there are any positives in this game," said cornerback Walt Harris, who tripped and was beaten on a 47-yard pass from Blake to Joe Horn that put the Saints ahead 14-7 in the second quarter. "Everything that could go wrong went wrong.
"We've got 10 more games and we've got to do something with these 10 games. We're not what the record shows, but we've played like that. We have to turn this around, do something."
The Bears were beaten in virtually every area of the game Sunday, with only the punting of Brent Bartholomew and the kick returning of Glyn Milburn standing as positives.
The Bears were entitled to excuses. The offense had lost wideout Bobby Engram several weeks ago with a knee injury, and was without fullback Curtis Enis, center Olin Kreutz and receiver Marcus Robinson because of injuries. Then tight end John Allred was lost for the season in the third quarter with a knee injury, the fifth Bears starter on offense to go down in five weeks.
"Not having Marcus, Curtis or some of those other guys in there didn't help," McNown said. "I believe in the guys who stepped into their spots. I'm supportive and I think they did a fine job."
But a fine job was not nearly enough. And few Bears were pretending that it would be in the weeks ahead.
"Eleven of us need to take it upon each other to say, `I'll be the guy to make this play,'" said Robinson. "That's the only way we're going to grow."