Ditka dangles as season ends

The Bears headed further south with a season-ending 27-14 loss to the playoff-bound Dallas Cowboys Sunday.

Afterward, Bears President Michael McCaskey headed west to southern California for a family vacation, leaving a legion of Bears followers hanging on for his final word on head coach Mike Ditka.

"Regardless of what happens, it has been a helluva run," Ditka said. "I told someone earlier, I'm not sure where the line is to apologize. But wherever it is, I won't be in it. It has been a helluva run. I've enjoyed it.

"This is where I started (as an assistant coach with the Cowboys in 1973). I started in Chicago (as a player), came here and went back. So we will see what happens. I'm an optimist. I believe in the best. I know one thing: I'm a Bear. Whether people like it or not, I'm a Bear."

McCaskey is due to return to Chicago on Jan. 4, at which time he is expected to sit down with Ditka and discuss the coach's future.

Ditka left the Bears' fate in the hands of rookie quarterback Will Furrer Sunday. In his first start, the left-hander from Virginia Tech completed only nine passes in 23 attempts for 89 yards. He was intercepted three times and sacked twice by the NFL's No. 1 defense.

While the Cowboys were racking up 354 total yards, including 131 on the ground by NFL rushing champ Emmitt Smith, the Bears were held to a season-low 92 total yards.

"We were a little overmatched, but we didn't quit. They tried hard," said Ditka.

The defeat left the Bears with a 5-11 record, the franchise's most losses since 1969 (1-13). The Bears were 4-10 in 1975. If Detroit upsets San Francisco Monday night, the Bears will finish fifth in the NFC Central; otherwise, they'll finish fourth.

Future Hall of Fame linebacker Mike Singletary played his final game and was credited with six tackles.

"I am the one who has been very honored to play in a city like Chicago," Singletary said.

The Cowboys led 3-0 at the half on a 21-yard field goal by Lin Elliott at the conclusion of a 10-play, 82-yard drive with 1:04 left in the half.

Elliott had missed a 28-yarder at the end of the first quarter.

Smith earned his second straight NFL rushing title when he avoided three tacklers en route to a 31-yard touchdown run with 11:05 left in the third quarter to give Dallas a 10-0 lead.

The sprint gave Smith 131 yards in 20 carries for the game and 1,713 for the season, 23 more than the Steelers' Barry Foster, who finished earlier in the day with 103 yards against Cleveland for 1,690 overall. Smith's season yardage also broke the Cowboys' record of 1,646 by Tony Dorsett in 1981.

Troy Aikman played the first half only for the Cowboys and completed 10 of 20 passes for 78 yards. Steve Beuerlein (8 of 11 for 99 yards) took over in the second half.

The Cowboys (13-3) scored another touchdown about 30 seconds later when Furrer's pitchout caromed off the chest of Darren Lewis and into the arms of Dallas defensive tackle Russell Maryland. Maryland, a Whitney Young High School alumnus, rambled 23 yards for the touchdown and a 17-0 lead.

Curvin Richards took over for Smith and promptly scored his first NFL touchdown from three yards out to give Dallas a 24-0 lead with 6:11 showing in the third quarter.

Elliott tacked on a 34-yard field goal late in the third quarter for a 27-0 advantage.

Bears cornerback Donnell Woolford, whistled for pass interference twice in the first half, intercepted a fourth-quarter Beuerlein pass and returned it 32 yards to the Dallas 6. Mark Green ran up the middle on the first play from scrimmage to make the score 27-7 with 12:30 left.

The Bears used another turnover to score their second touchdown. Richards fumbled into the arms of defensive tackle Chris Zorich, who went 42 yards for a touchdown to make the score 27-14 with 9:19 to go.

"Zorich played awfully inspired football out there. He played very well," Ditka said. "I think he has worked to get better. I think he will be a real fine football player."

Bears safety David Tate recovered a fumble by Cowboys receiver Alvin Harper midway through the fourth period. But Furrer turned the ball over on the next play when Kevin Smith intercepted a pass intended for Anthony Morgan. For the Cowboys, the victory was a franchise-record 13th. The had already earned a bye for the first weekend of the playoffs.

"That's a very good football team. I think they will prove that to a lot of people as they go through the playoffs," said Ditka.

The Bears finished 11-5 each of the last two seasons, revealing few signs that the bottom could fall out so quickly as it did in 1992.

"I believe everything goes in cycles, and you have got to change that," said Ditka. "Trends don't stop unless you change trends. You can't talk about 'em. You can't wish 'em to change. You have got to do the things that will change them.

"And this organization went from the top to the bottom and back to the top. And the reason they did is that they made the right changes to do those things. That's a part of life. I accept that. Change is inevitable. Sometimes it is not the easiest thing…how you handle it. I really believe it can go back uphill again. I don't see any problem with that.

"But we have got to do some things better and maybe change some people. But not a lot."

The Bears changed starting quarterbacks numerous times this season, going from Jim Harbaugh to Peter Tom Willis to Harbaugh to Furrer. They also alternated running backs, defensive linemen, offensive linemen, linebackers and secondary men. They even changed kickoff men.

"I don't think it is a wholesale thing at all. I think you do a few things and you make up your mind what you want to do with the people you have and go with them," Ditka said.

"I think at that point you can't be substituting like we did this year and changing people all over the field. Whoever is in there is in there. If you get somebody hurt, you put somebody else in there and they have the job until they lose it."