Like clockwork

Fireworks preceded Sunday night's kickoff, and onto the field rode the Vikings mascot on a motorcycle as a cheerleader on a purple snowmobile trailed close behind. In the stands, 64,144 screaming fans blew into bullhorns, while over the speakers blared the Rolling Stones loudly enough to set off car alarms in the parking lot.

Delirium rocked the Metrodome.

It was enough to give the Bears a headache.

But if the Bears' heads throbbed as they left the stadium after their 24-13 loss to Minnesota, it was more likely from having them knocked all over the field by a mammoth Vikings offensive line.

"That was horrible," linebacker Warrick Holdman said.

Holdman was referring to the manner in which Minnesota mauled the Bears' defensive front, grinding out 202 rushing yards and controlling the clock for 38 minutes 42 seconds.

Forget the Randy Ratio. The simple math said that the Minnesota offensive linemen, who outweighed the Bears' defensive front seven by an average of 45 pounds per man, pushed Bears defenders out of the way whenever they wanted, however they wanted.

Coming in, the Bears' game plan concentrated on stopping Randy Moss. And they did: He had four catches for 27 yards. But running back Moe Williams, with 108 yards on 21 carries, made it impossible for the Bears to gain momentum.

"We tried to make them beat us left-handed [by running the ball] and I don't think we did a good job of doing that," defensive coordinator Greg Blache said. "We're not a very detailed team, and that's coaching. We're not a very disciplined team."

The Bears simply couldn't make a stop when it counted, the dagger coming on an 11-yard TD reception by tight end Jim Kleinsasser that capped a 93-yard, 16-play drive in the fourth quarter that ate up 9 minutes 42 seconds.

The Bears still had a chance during that drive, trailing 17-13, but never produced the big defensive play when they needed it most. On third-and-1 at the Minnesota 41 with 8:47 left, the Vikings fooled the Bears on a reverse to Kelly Campbell that went for 19 yards.

For one tense, brief moment, it looked like the second loss of the season wouldn't be the hardest one of the night for the Bears. Kordell Stewart went down with 2:25 left in the game after hitting his head when tackled by Vikings defensive end Lance Johnstone. Afterward, Stewart called it "a stinger." After a few anxious minutes in Beardom, Stewart jogged off the field as Chris Chandler replaced him.

"It kind of scared me more than anything," Stewart said. "I'll be fine."

Two plays after Stewart left, Chandler threw an interception to safety Brian Russell that sealed defeat for the Bears, who showed improvement against the Vikings but maybe not enough to inspire hope for the playoffs.

In fact, since NFL schedules increased from 14 games to 16 in 1978, only 19 teams have made the playoffs after starting 0-2. Only four teams that started 0-3 have ever reversed fortunes quickly enough to qualify for postseason, the barometer for success in this defining season for coach Dick Jauron.

"We succeeded to a degree," Jauron said, "but we lost the game."

It was a night that quickly got off to a bad start.

The Vikings looked deep on the first play of the game and caught the Bears napping with a 51-yard pass to Campbell to the Bears' 5. Jauron issued an official's challenge, but replays showed that Campbell had possession with both feet in bounds. It cost the Bears a timeout.

Two plays later, Williams scooted up the middle for a 1-yard touchdown run to make it 7-0 just 63 seconds into the game.

The Bears answered by committing themselves to the running game earlier than they had in their season-opening loss to San Francisco. Anthony Thomas, who had 53 yards on 10 carries, got the ball on the first play from scrimmage and broke off a nifty 34-yard gain that included a cutback reminiscent of his 2001 form.

That drive stalled after jumpy left tackle Mike Gandy had a false start on third-and-9 that preceded a Stewart one-hopper to Marty Booker. It was the first of two Gandy false starts on the night. The Bears settled for a 42-yard Paul Edinger field goal.

With Moss serving as little more than a decoy, the Vikings went right at linebackers Brian Urlacher and Holdman. On their third scoring drive, which covered 12 plays and 92 yards and lasted 7:12, Bears defenders looked like they were catching blockers more than they were taking them on.

"Two of their touchdown drives were over 90 yards . . . come on," tackle Bryan Robinson said. "You take away those 14 points and it's [13]-10, us."

The Bears responded at the end of the first half with their most impressive, improvisational drive of the young season. Taking over at the 40 with just 1:55 left in the half without a timeout, Stewart frantically but effectively steered the Bears downfield. A third-and-13 conversion at the Vikings' 25 summed up in a few seconds what the Bears seek out of Stewart all year long.

With his receivers covered, Stewart took off up the middle and broke a couple of tackles on his way to a 14-yard gain. After a spike to stop the clock, Stewart found David Terrell on a fade route in the front right corner of the end zone for a 14-yard touchdown pass.Terrell's TD made it 17-10, and a game was on.

Stewart made strides in his second week in the offense, completing 13-of-21 passes for 137 yards without an interception. His 49-yard dart to Dez White with 7:11 left in the third quarter showed that Stewart can impress as much with his arm as with his legs if given time.

"We're getting better," Stewart said. "That's the good thing about this."