That's perfect, Bears, but from now on, the games count

The Bears finished the preseason with four of a kind-a winning hand.

Starting next Sunday, the results count for real.

A 27-21 victory over the New York Giants on Saturday night completed the Bears' first undefeated preseason in 36 years.

"There will be a lot of good lessons that will be learned from this game tonight," said Bears coach Dave Wannstedt.

Steve Walsh started at quarterback in place of Erik Kramer, who did not want to risk further damage to a tender shoulder before the regular-season opener against Tampa Bay.

"It's a muscle spasm in the neck," Wannstedt said. "If it had been Tampa, he would have played. But we didn't want to jeopardize him not being able to work next week in practice."

Walsh (12 of 21 for 134 yards) played in the first half and threw two TD passes. Second-year quarterback Shane Matthews played well in the second half, connecting on 9 of 13 passes for 66 yards, including a TD pass to tight end Chris Gedney.

Lewis Tillman (six carries for 21 yards) and Tim Worley (14 for 49) performed well, not making Wannstedt's job any easier as he decides on a starter at tailback.

The Bears led 24-7 before the Giants (1-4) rallied for two fourth-quarter touchdowns behind former Wheaton North and Ohio State quarterback Kent Graham. Keith Elias dove in from a yard out with 10:24 left to make it 24-14. Then, after a fumble by Bears receiver Tyrone Williams, the Giants took over and Graham passed 20 yards to Chris Callaway. Brad Daliuso's kick made it 24-21 with 9:16 left.

After Kevin Butler boomed a 53-yard field goal with 4:16 left, the Bears second-string defense held off a furious Giants rally. A fourth-down incomplete pass near the goal line ended the Giants' bid for a victory at the 19 with :04 remaining.

Bears coaches and front-office officials had one eye on Saturday night's preseason finale and one eye on the waiver wire as they prepared to pare their roster down to the NFL maximum of 53 players on Sunday.

The real significance of the final preseason game was to refine the performances of the starters, while players on the bubble continued their struggle to make the final roster. Fullback Bob Christian strengthened his chances with a good performance. He caught three passes for 20 yards and rushed twice for 16 yards.

Rookie fullback Antonio Carter sat out with a bruised shoulder.

Obviously, no team can afford to pass up an opportunity to upgrade a position because of injuries or general lack of talent.

"We're just watching the waiver wire, and anybody of interest we see, we'll jump right on them," said Bears player personnel chief Rod Graves.

A practice squad of five players may be created Monday. But these players remain free agents and are eligible to sign with any other team in the league.

Only 20 players who were on the 47-man roster in 1992 are still in training camp with the Bears now. There will be nine new starters on offense when the Bears host Tampa Bay in the regular-season opener.

The Bears were one of the most active teams during the free-agency period, signing practically an entirely new offense. Six free agents took their oath as new Bears players: quarterbacks Kramer and Walsh, tackle Andy Heck, tailback Tillman, fullback Merril Hoge, wide receiver Graham and tight end Marv Cook.

"We are not nearly in the frame of mind we were in last year," Graves said. "We scrambled to fill so many positions last year. This year we have narrowed it down to looking for help at maybe two other positions. We feel pretty good about our depth."

The Bears signed wide receivers Nate Lewis and Greg McMurtry off the waiver wire last week after the Rams released them. They acquired Graham in a trade with the Steelers for draft picks last spring.

"There is less activity on the trade market this time of year," Graves said. "So much of that has to do with the contracts that have been agreed upon (during the off-season). If you're going to make a trade, you certainly have to have room to accommodate that contract.

"The good part about it is that if a team can afford to keep a good player because of the cap situation, then they are going to let good people go. Such was the case with Greg McMurtry and Greg Lewis. We have to be on top of players like that so we can make a move quickly."