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Bears' rally lacks finishing kick
For once this season, the Bears played an inspired second half.
Problem was, they trailed by 20 points at halftime Sunday and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers escaped with a 20-17 victory to end their losing streak at five games.
Bigger problem was, Kevin Butler said he felt like a beaten man even before he missed a potential game-tying 44-yard field goal in the closing seconds.
Butler absorbed the wrath of head coach Mike Ditka on the sideline after kicking off out of bounds in the third quarter when the Bears trailed 20-3.
"It is up to me to change his mind," Butler said about Ditka's angry comments. "From a kickoff out of bounds, I am the worst kicker in the league, I'm gutless, and I am mentally weak. I don't buy that. If he does, I guess he will get a mentally strong kicker."
Butler did not blame anyone else for his missed field goal, which collared the Bears with a third straight loss to leave them tied at 4-6 with the Bucs and Packers in the NFC Central.
"I don't expect to hear any encouragement, that's for sure," Butler said. "But you just try to forget that, and you try to get ready and make the field goals when it comes down to the time. And I didn't."
Butler missed two of three field goals Sunday; he has missed four of his last five tries.
"The ball was held, and the ball should be kicked," Ditka said. "And I am not blaming the kicker; I'm not blaming the snapper. It was certainly not the snapper or the holder. It just didn't work."
The Bucs outgained the Bears 235 yards to 55 in the first half. The Bears turned the tables in the second half, 260 yards to 64.
"In the first half, we weren't in sync in our nickel package," said quarterback Jim Harbaugh (17 of 33 for 225 yards and one TD). "We weren't picking up the first downs, for whatever reason."
A 27-yard Butler field goal made in 20-3 in the third period. Neal Anderson scored from a yard out at the end of a 64-yard drive to pull the Bears to within 20-10 with 7:31 left in the game.
Then an 11-yard TD pass from Harbaugh to Anderson made it 20-17 with 3:35 to go.
Ditka sent Chris Gardocki in to kick off in place of Butler, and Gardocki booted the ball into the south end zone for a touchback.
"It sounds like he had a problem with me," said Butler of Ditka. "He is the head coach. He took me off of kickoffs. I don't think you will see me back out there. Take it for what it is worth. Sure, it is fair. He is the head coach, and he can do what he wants."
The Bears' defense held and forced a punt. They started the potential game-tying drive from their 28 with 1:37 left.
The drive included a 16-yard pass to Tom Waddle and a 7-yarder to Anderson. Following a two-yard sack by Keith McCants, Harbaugh passed 20 yards to Waddle over the middle.
Anderson was stopped for a 1-yard gain on a draw play to the Tampa Bay 31 as the Bears were operating with no timeouts left.
"I probably should have killed the clock, looking back on it," said Harbaugh. "I just thought I would try to pop a trap in there and try to pick up seven or eight more yards to get it down into field goal range, then kill the clock. But that play didn't work."
With 13 seconds left, Harbaugh passed incomplete to stop the clock and Tampa Bay was penalized 5 yards for being offside.
Harbaugh threw another incomplete pass intended for Anderson before Butler trotted onto the field with 11 seconds left.
"In that position, you are pumped up and you have a little adrenaline flowing. You just have to stay down on it," said Butler. "I felt like I hit the ball good. I knew it was going to be close to that left upright, and it just went off to that side."
In the first quarter, Tampa Bay quickly took a 3-0 lead on a 31-yard Eddie Murray field goal after a 67-yard drive stalled. The former Detroit Lions standout was signed last week by the Bucs after Ken Willis was released. On their next possession, the Bucs went 93 yards in just nine plays culminating with Reggie Cobb bolting into the end zone from a yard out.
Butler missed a 45-yard field-goal attempt wide right after the Bears drove to the Tampa Bay 27 in the second quarter.
At the conclusion of a 50-yard drive, Murray converted a 40-yarder midway through the second period to give the Bucs a 13-0 lead.
Dennis Gentry returned Murray's kickoff 66 yards to the Tampa Bay 27 before Joe King dragged him down.
A few plays later, the Bears lined up for a 37-yard field goal attempt. Holder Peter Tom Willis attempted to roll out to the left on the fake, but he was tackled for a nine-yard loss by Ricky Reynolds.
Willis called an audible at the line of scrimmage, but the intended receiver could not hear the play change for a fake. Willis has the option to either run the ball or pass it.
The Bears turned the ball over with 2:24 left in the opening half when Harbaugh dropped back to pass and was stripped of the ball by McCants. Rookie defensive lineman Santana Dotson recovered at the Bears' 16.
"That was a big play, even though it happened early on," said Harbaugh. "We gave them a touchdown right there."
It took the Bucs just two plays to convert the turnover into a touchdown. Vinny Testaverde (12 of 21 for 182 yards) passed 12 yards to tight end Ron Hall and a 20-0 lead with 1:53 left in the half.
"Coach Ditka was very quiet at halftime," said tackle Stan Thomas. "He has tried everything. He has tried getting everybody pumped up at halftime. That is the usual routine. But today he was very strange. Kind of quiet. He told us we know what we have got to do when we walked out."
"I thought our guys didn't quit. They hung in there, they played," said Ditka. "Almost . . . that's all I can say. Almost. It didn't work out. They tried. They didn't give up. They could have thrown it in.
"It comes down to making a play here or there, and we don't make them. We had a couple of chances early, and it didn't work out. And we got a couple of chances late, and it didn't work out."
The Bears wound up outgaining Tampa Bay 315 yards to 299.
"We have got to play better," said Ditka, whose team hosts Green Bay Sunday. "And we will. That's a promise. If we have to simplify it, we'll play better.
"Maybe we are not good enough to do it. But I am not giving up on them."