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Fit-to-hit Bears become misfits
If, as advertised, this Bears team is fit to hit, they must be leaving their best plays on the practice field.
For the second straight week, the Bears turned in a half-day's work, stumbling to the finish line against the previously winless New York Giants.
The Bears entered unfamiliar territory Monday night, falling to 1-2 for the first time since 1983, by bowing to the Giants 27-14 at Soldier Field for the first time, and losing in September for only the fifth time since 1985.
"We were outcoached, we were outplayed and we were outhit," said disconsolate Bears coach Mike Ditka, losing for only the second time in a Monday night home game.
"They deserved to win the game. If we don't correct a few things in every area that I mentioned, we're going to have a long, hard season. There is no question about it."
The Bears offense disappeared in the second half, and so did many of the 63,444 fans who served as props for the "Monday Night Football" national telecast.
Phil Simms guided the Giants (1-2), completing 19 of 30 passes for 220 yards and two touchdowns. It was the first Giants win in Chicago since a 1962 triumph at Wrigley Field.
"We're playing with very little confidence and we're not challenging people on offense, defense or special teams," said Ditka. "It's very disappointing. I've been here a long time and I don't know that I've ever felt any worse about the way we played football than I do right now."
Ditka must have rejected the pregame scriptthe one that had the two teams plodding through the evening with unimaginative offenses in a low-scoring battle.
In the first half alone, the Bears tried a fake punt, a fullback pass, a reverse and a shovel pass.
After the first-half dust settled, the two teams were tied 14-14.
The Bears broke from their staid tradition on offense during their first possession. On fourth down from their own 43-yard line, Chris Gardocki faked the punt but passed low and incomplete toward Ron Rivera.
"We practiced the play and we knew they were going to line up against us the way they did," said Gardocki. "I thought it would be better to throw the pass low than too high. It was my fault; it was just a bad throw."
Gardocki was a quarterback at Redan High School in Stone Mountain, Ga., completing 40 of 87 passes for 751 yards and 12 TDs as a senior.
The Giants took over at the Bears 42 with 12 minutes 49 seconds left in the opening period. But a holding penalty slowed the drive and the Giants' Sean Landeta punted 27 yards on fourth down. Donnell Woolford muffed the punt, but recovered it himself at the 26.
Jim Harbaugh (17 of 28 for 183 yards) guided the Bears on a 74-yard touchdown drive, highlighted by an 11-yard pass to Wendell Davis, a 13-yard reverse by Davis and an 18-yard run by Neal Anderson.
A third-down pass of 8 yards to Anderson and Kevin Butler's extra point gave the Bears a 7-0 lead with 5:32 left in the opening period.
"At least when we played in the beginning, we played hard, we went after people and we challenged them," said Ditka. "Then we quit challenging people. We were sitting back on our heels and waiting, hoping something good happens instead of trying to make something good happen. That's a bad way to try to get through a football game, or life."
The Giants retaliated by rolling 77 yards in 3:56, capped by Simms' 15-yard TD pass to tight end Howard Cross over Bears linebacker Ron Cox. Matt Bahr converted to tie the game 7-7.
The Bears regained the lead in dramatic fashion. Harbaugh's pass over the middle that appeared to be intended for Davis was tipped into the air and caught by Muster. He eluded four would-be tacklers, picked up a small convoy of blockers and dashed 44 yards for a TD.
The Bears squandered an excellent scoring opportunity after defensive end Trace Armstrong stripped the ball away from Giants back Jarrod Bunch. He recovered the fumble at the Giants 25 with 12:06 to go in the half.
But the Bears outsmarted themselves for the second time in the game when Muster attempted a fullback pass intended for Anderson. As he was pressured, Muster overthrew Anderson and Greg Jackson intercepted in the end zone for a touchback.
"I should have thrown it out of bounds or grounded it or something," said Muster.
"It was an ill-designed play that was my fault. I take the blame for that one," said Ditka.
"I don't know if (the interception) was the turning point. I think it was a hard-fought game from the get-go," said beleaguered Giants coach Ray Handley.
"It was a big play, no question about it. To stop them there was key."
The Giants took advantage of a Bears turnover to tie the game 14-14.
Harbaugh's pass intended for tight end Keith Jennings was picked off by cornerback Everson Walls. The Giants then advanced 47 yards in seven plays as Hampton scored from a yard out. Bahr converted to knot the game with 2:18 left until intermission.
The half ended with Bahr barely missing a 50-yard field-goal attempt. The boot sailed wide left.
The Giants gained their first lead of the season when Simms passed 13 yards to Stephen Baker (7 catches for 109 yards) for a 21-14 advantage at 9:35 of the third period.
Bahr tacked on field goals from 31 yards in the third period and 32 yards in the fourth to take a 27-14 lead.
"I can sit here and try to make alibis, but we got out butts kicked pretty good," said Ditka. "We got out butts kicked in every area. One area you can understand, but not every area."
The Giants controlled the ball 38:14 to the Bears' 21:46. The Giants ran up 384 total yards to the Bears' 274, and outgained them 172-99 on the ground. "I think they may have even surprised themselves, it was so easy," said Ditka. "We only played half a football game, just like we did last week (in the 28-6 loss to New Orleans). We've played two halves in two weeks instead of playing eight quarters."