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Aside from Paul Edinger and R.W. McQuarters assuring themselves a standing reservation in any of St. Louis' finest restaurants and at least one kitchen table, it's impossible to determine immediately the effect of the Bears' season-ending victory over Detroit.
Taken at face value, the Bears' 23-20 win Sunday lifted their record to 5-11 and their mood from somber to something a little more suitable for the holiday season.
"You can't buy something like today," tackle Mike Wells said. "This is what it's all about. People can say what they want, but this is why you start playing when you're a young kid and that's why we keep doing it today.
"Even though it was a bad season, this is the taste we're going to have in our mouth and this is good."
Certainly McQuarter, with his 61-yard interception return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter and his fumble-causing sack with 49 seconds left, and Edinger, with his winning 54-yard field goal with two seconds remaining, won friends across state lines. They and the Bears knocked the Lions out of the playoffs and secured a wild-card spot for the defending Super Bowl champion St. Louis Rams.
"The whole Chicago Bears organization can come to my house for dinner tonight," exulted St. Louis defensive tackle D'Marco Farr after the Rams' victory over New Orleans. "I'll put Edinger, the kicker, at the head of the table."
Said Edinger, who also kicked 50- and 37-yarders: "When I went out there I knew I was going to make it. Knowing that it's 10 degrees outside and we're indoors and on Christmas Eve ... you couldn't ask for better conditions as a kicker."
St. Louis coach Mike Martz evidently was so confident of the Bears operating under quarterback Shane Matthews that he had told his team, "If you win you're in, because the Bears are going to take care of business in Detroit."
It was a similar feeling of faith in Matthews that sustained the Bears through an otherwise tumultuous week in which a number of players were dismayed at Cade McNown's level of readiness. .
But they had no choice but to take direction from both--Matthews, until a broken right thumb forced him out shortly before halftime, and McNown the rest of the way.
And other than a near-interception thrown by McNown with 12 seconds left that could have cost the Bears the game, they go into the off-season feeling at least hopeful about their soon-to-be-third-year quarterback.
"I'm happy for him," said tackle James Williams, one of McNown's most candid critics. "Given all the things [that happened last week], he was able to get in and do what he had to do to help us win. That's a sign of growing up. We'll see."
Specifically, McNown led the team on an eight-play, 90-yard drive that culminated in a 27-yard touchdown strike to Marty Booker late in the third quarter.
That gave the Bears their first lead at 13-10.
And two series after running back James Allen's fumble at the Bears' 11-yard line resulted in the Lions' tying 26-yard field goal, McNown put the Bears into position for Edinger's game-winning field goal with a 10-yard completion to Allen on fourth-and-one.
The appreciative Bears defense, which has been on something of a roll the second half of the season, , took notice.
"Our offense ran the ball well," said defensive end Bryan Robinson, who had two sacks and a pass deflection. "And even when Cade got in, [Bears coaches] didn't ask him to try to win the game until the end when he had to and he did a [heck of] a job."
McNown credited the line's "gaping holes" and pledged that he would work "incredibly hard" this off-season.
Bears coach Dick Jauron, a raspy voice making him sound aptly beleaguered after a trying year, said relief is not the way he would describe his emotions.
"You don't want to see it end; it's what you do, it's what you love," he said. "[But] we all need a rest. We need to get away. I know I'm disappointed."
The Bears have now mustered only 11 victories in Jauron's first two seasons and were among the first teams eliminated from playoff contention this year.
But grasping for something on which to build, they finished the second half 4-4 with victories in two of the last three games.
They also ended the season with a victory for only the second time since 1987 and defeated the Lions in the Silverdome for only the first time since '93.
"It was a great way for us to end a very long year," Jauron said. "This team has a lot of character. I've said that before and try to make them believe that the character will show up in the future, that it will have value for them, that it will get them results on the field if they just stick together and work through all the problems.
"Obviously, we've got a ways to go. We've got to get a lot better. But I was very happy for these guys to get rewarded, as little as we have all year."
Sometimes it doesn't take much.
"It's nice to hear somebody else get booed besides us," Williams said.
Somehow the feeling that it was their own seemingly correctable actions that led to their repeated failures, Bears players were left with some encouragement.
"Coach Jauron alluded to it all year," said Robinson, a free agent who said he would like to return to the Bears next year. "It's like we were writing our own story throughout the season and I guess the conclusion of this book is that we probably didn't live happily ever after, but we lived to fight another day."
BREAKING DOWN THE BEARS
Football writers Melissa Isaacson and John Mullin analyze Sunday's game:
Had a game-turning interception, a game-deciding sack and very nearly settled the game earlier with an interception that was negated by a pass-interference penalty. A defensive day doesn't get any better than that. UP
Made first game-winner of his NFL career--a 54-yard field goal with :02 left--plus 37- and 50-yarders in the first half. A question mark in the preseason, placekicker is one of the few areas Bears can be sure of going into next season. UP
Good play fake led to third-quarter touchdown pass to Marty Booker and fourth-down pass to James Allen set up game-winning field goal. Benefited from pounding the ball up front. UP
Took over the game in the third and fourth quarters after a shaky first half and allowed one sack in 30 dropbacks. UP
The Bears' defensive coordinator has helped team hold six of its last nine opponents to fewer than 300 yards. Against Detroit Blache threw several blitzes at the Lions that resulted in sacks, one of which led to McQuarters forcing a fumble late in the game. UP