Whom to blame now?
When Bears quarterback Cade McNown left Sunday's game with a separated throwing shoulder after being tackled on the sideline two minutes into the second quarter, conventional wisdom had it that an injection of Jim Miller would be just what the Bears needed.
So when Miller came in and led the Bears' offense to three field goals, just enough to fall short of the Philadelphia Eagles 13-9, it became obvious that the solution is not that simple, the despair of 1-7 in turn becoming just a little deeper.
"There's no vindication," said McNown, who was asked if he took some solace in the fact that his replacement had similar problems getting into the end zone. "I wanted him to go out there and light the place up and help this team win. That's what we're all trying to do. I don't want him to go out there and do poorly. I want him to be as efficient as possible and move this offense. I want to win. I want to be on a winning team."
Under ideal, and some might say surreal, circumstances, that would take at least eight more weeks to accomplish. As it stands, the Bears talked Sunday night about gaining momentum from an outstanding defensive effort and at least being in position to win the game on the last play--a 50-plus-yard attempt from Miller that deflected off several hands in the end zone before bouncing harmlessly into the cursed Veteran Stadiums turf.
McNown blamed the hard surface for his injury. Initial diagnosis was a second-degree separation, which trainer Tim Bream said normally has a recovery rate of anywhere from two to four weeks.
Until then, quarterbacking the Bears will be left to Miller, who had the task Sunday of leading the Bears without the benefit of a single practice repetition with the Bears' offense since training camp.
Miller was nevertheless tough on himself afterward.
"You have to get the rust off," he said after going 14-of-34 for 128 yards and an interception.
"The only positive I can draw from this is that we had some drives going and I got more comfortable as the game went on. But that's what I'm paid to do as a second-stringer. . . . It's my responsibility to put the ball in the end zone."
That did not seem to be the strategy late in the first half when, trailing 10-0 with 41 seconds left till intermission, the Bears did not choose to either stop the clock or go for the end zone.
Coach Dick Jauron said he thought they could spring "an 18- to 20-yarder" from the screen passes they were attempting. "We thought about using a timeout with one second left and taking one shot," he said, "but I decided not to do it because nothing really had gone well for us offensively in the first half. . . .
"I wanted to get into the locker room and regroup, and I figured we'd come out and win it in the second half."
The Bears were set on controlling the ball and the clock by running the ball, and they did run as well as they have all season with James Allen leading the way with 87 yards in 21 carries.
Still, it was as plain as six Louie Aguiar punts by halftime that the Bears, no matter who's quarterbacking, are going to have a tough time coming from behind.
"It's very frustrating," Jauron said. "That's why we are where we are. We're not scoring enough points. . . . God knows we're spending enough time in the red zone. . . . But we're clearly not getting it done."
Under the direction of McNown, the offense, with horrific starting field position, got only as far as the Bears' 40-yard line (on his last play). The Bears, in fact, didn't cross midfield at all until they managed to get to the Eagles' 49 with 4 minutes 43 seconds left in the third quarter and trailing 13-0. Then Aguiar launched his seventh punt.
On the next series, Eddie Kennison picked up 23 yards and a first down at the Eagles' 8 on a double reverse. But one Miller scramble and two incompletions later left the Bears only a yard closer to the end zone, and they settled for a 25-yard field goal by Paul Edinger.
An 11-play, 75-yard drive on the next series, which featured Miller completions to Kennison for 22 yards and to Marcus Robinson for 33, resulted in a 33-yard field goal by Edinger, closing the gap to 13-6.
When Bears safety Tony Parrish intercepted a Donovan McNabb pass and returned it to the Eagles' 22 on the next play from scrimmage, the Bears had their first opportunity to seize momentum with 4:26 left.
But when it was all over, the defense was left to beat itself up over giving up 13 points.
"The defense," said Parrish, "has to do whatever it takes to give the offense the ball or score ourselves."
Or, though Parrish would not say it, the Bears will not score. Another Edinger field goal, a 40-yarder, was as good as it got after three straight Miller incompletions.
On fourth-and-10, the thought by Jauron was to put points on the board and put his team into position to win. "You can [have] hindsight on everything, but we got the ball back and we had the opportunity to win, and that's all you can ask for."
For these Bears, it is more than they have received all season. But depending on a quarterback they have running the opposing team's offense in practice was not going to get it done in a final drive with 1:04 left.
"We need to give the first guy all the snaps," said Jauron, who may be in sync with some NFL coaches out there, but definitely not the majority. "If we knew this was going to happen, we would have given him some snaps, but not in normal preparation."
Normal preparation now means, with the off week, two weeks of deep thought in preparation for a second half of the season the Bears must hope shows something no one saw in the first eight weeks.
"There's no better time for some soul-searching," said Allen.
And, it appears, some active imagination. "There has to be some light at the end of the tunnel," said tackle Mike Wells. "You can't throw up your hands, even if the chance for the playoffs is slim. We can run the table and make the playoffs, and then people will say, `How did they ever do that?'"