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Barely finer than Carolina
After 76 years, time for a nickname change. How does the Chicago Chameleons sound?
These Bears are a different kind of animal. They are harder to pin down than a greased pig.
Ferocious as Bears? Not really. Frustrating and fickle? Most definitely. A team with a future? Flip a coin.
Sunday's unsatisfying 31-27 victory over Carolina at Soldier Field left some of the Bears feeling like they had lost.
"Ugly," linebacker Joe Cain moaned. "We're always in the middle of a dogfight and it's just frustrating. We're giving away points."
What scared the Bears most about the Panthers was that no one else in the league had been lousy enough to lose to this rookie franchise, now 0-5.
The Bears didn't escape the upset until Robert Green scored on a 1-yard run with 42 seconds left, climaxing a 10-play, 60-yard drive.
"I'm down because I know we can play better," linebacker Vinson Smith said, acknowledging that other teammates were happier to get by with a victory. "This is a team with a lot of physical abilities, but so inconsistent with them."
It may speak volumes about the Central Division that Carolina has threatened to beat Tampa Bay and the Bears in the last two games.
"I think some of our young guys were surprised at how good a team that is," Smith said. "I wasn't surprised. They've got guys like Pete Metzelaars and Sam Mills. They know how to win games."
Maybe Rashaan Salaam's 105 yards, his first triple-digit performance in the National Football League, should be stressed ahead of all else. He shook off the shakes from two fumbles in his previous two starts and ran straight ahead toward what could be a superstar career.
"We're a 1-2 punch," said Green, whose return from a two-game absence with a sprained ankle sparked his backfield mate and the Bears, who sometimes have all the life of a dead battery.
Quarterback Erik Kramer thought the analogy of a painting in progress a more apt and perhaps kinder comparison. He believes a masterpiece will be the final result, not a crude paint-by-numbers mess.
"We're taking little steps," said Kramer. "One of these days we're going to put together a piece of work, start to finish."
The Bears weren't even finished changing from winners to losers to winners before a crowd of 66,944, most of whom acted like a tennis match had broken out, keeping quiet as the momentum swung back and forth. Maybe the 7,276 no-shows knew such a volley would occur.
"It wasn't a reflection on us," said Richard Dent, who returned to the Bears and evoked the biggest crowd response, even though he had a minimal effect on the outcome. "They were saying, `Why should we care about Carolina? Who are those guys?' "
The manner in which the Bears now win games has contributed to their confusion and uncertainty. The offense is a much larger influence now in decisions than they have been in years.
Some remain in denial.
"I think this team is still based on defense," offensive coordinator Ron Turner said.
Some aren't hiding behind the cliches.
"The offense has caught up to us," Cain said. "They've scored 20 or more points now for all five games this season, the first time that's happened here since the 1985 team. But what's frustrating is we should be winning 24-7, something like that."
The defense may be roughing itself up, considering it wasn't to blame for any of Carolina's 14 second-half points. The Bears were nursing a 17-13 lead early in the fourth quarter when nose tackle Greg Kragen sacked Kramer on a blitz, knocked the ball loose, recovered it at the 1 and lunged into the end zone.
But the Bears' offense responded with the kind of fervor seen usually by Bears defenses of the past. Nate Lewis returned the kickoff 49 yards, Kramer hit Green on a key third-down screen pass that sustained the drive and Salaam hammered out back-to-back runs of 5 and 9 yards. And tight end Ryan Wetnight was left alone in the right end zone to catch a 1-yard scoring pass when the Panthers guessed rush at the goal line.
Carolina refused to pack up and go home. Eric Guliford eluded three Bears tacklers and returned Todd Sauerbrun's line-drive punt 62 yards for a touchdown to give Carolina a 27-24 lead with 2:37 left.
But the offense smacked back in the face of the unthinkable. Green caught another big pass, going 19 yards, Jeff Graham put together consecutive catches of 8 and 7 yards, and later added a 14-yarder. It was left for Green to sew up a game that kept splitting open at the seams with the winning touchdown.
"Obviously, a lot happened today to put us in a position to not win this game," coach Dave Wannstedt said. "But, but . . . as I told our players, the plays we had against us were not plays of guys not laying it on the line. The blitz and the punt return have nothing to do with effort.
"Nobody's happy with the way we played, but we're 3-2."