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The Bears consistently reduce the size of a football field to a window ledge. This tendency to microwave their games is dangerous.
Fans should beware not of radiation, but of the danger of being hit by falling Bears. An entire team is tossing itself out the window.
Dare to dance on that ledge week after week and, sooner or later, you fall. This isn't a team that can run away and hide from the fact that whether they win or lose always hangs on a thread and is as secure as the Three Little Pigs' house was against a good gust of wind.
"We can be mad or we can be sad for now, but we should know that we can win, that this team can win and there should be no excuses for us not to do the things we can do," wide receiver Jeff Graham said.
Maybe Sunday's third straight setback, a 24-17 loss to Detroit, could bring this team closer. That's because the offense wasn't a hero here, could not be top guns in a yardage shootout won 422-311 by the Lions.
Curtis Conway dropped a second-and-8 pass late. The Bears had to punt a play later. Graham dropped a first-and-more pass faced with a third-and-14 situation late in the third quarter.
Detroit used two quarterbacks to best Erik Kramer, their former comrade. But maybe it was Don Majkowski's remaining Packer blood that foiled a Bears team always overshadowed by Green Bay. The Lions didn't miss a beat when Majkowski replaced Scott Mitchell, whose sprained ankle knocked him out late in the second quarter.
Majkowski keyed Detroit's winning drive, hitting Johnnie Morton for 22 yards, and then connecting with Herman Moore for an 11-yard touchdown pass with just over 2 minutes remaining. For the day, Majkowski hit on 15 of 19 passes for 161 yards.
The Bears had a chance to tie the game, driving to the Detroit 10-yard line in the final minute, but Kramer's fourth-down pass fell incomplete in the end zone.
That shadow has lengthened now with the Packers ejecting the Bears from first place in the Central Division, leading by a game. The Bears now play three straight on the road--New York Giants, the Lions on Monday night and Cincinnati--before finishing at home against Tampa Bay and Philadelphia.
"You guys in the media have been saying one week blame it on the defense, next week blame the special teams," linebacker Vinson Smith said. "Well, we lost as a team today.
"Offense, defense and special teams all had opportunities to make a play that made the difference, and we all made mistakes. The line has stopped the run and made improvements the last three games. We see it in the meetings, but the fans look and can't tell because we lost."
At various times, coach Dave Wannstedt had this to say: "I don't know what to say (about falling from 6-2 to 6-5); I don't know what to do (about punts, not helped by newcomer Pat O'Neill in place of Todd Sauerbrun); I don't know what else I can do (about possible personnel changes with five games to play)."
The negative tense has started to creep into the Bears' language. Joe Cain couldn't avoid it, either.
"I really don't feel like talking now--seriously," he said. Although he later added: "Things just aren't working out. I don't know, you know what I mean."
That happens when your team allows 24 points or more in seven of the last eight games and goes 4-4. The four losses were all shootouts: 35-28 and 37-34 the other two defeats in the current streak.
"I'm sick about this," said Kramer, making perhaps his quickest dressing-room exit. "We should have won."
But with Rashaan Salaam held to 17 yards on 12 carries, the Lions' defense wasn't loosened up for the pass. Or the Bears weren't ready for the pass. That was most apparent in two major opportunities late in the game when the Bears' defense handed its offense the ball.
Lewis Tillman and Marty Carter recovered Detroit fumbles in the fourth quarter on back-to-back possessions. The Bears started at the 31 after Tillman's rescue effort and, four runs later, had it at the 5. Instead of seeing Graham wide open in the end zone, Kramer passed to a tightly covered Robert Green for a loss on third down and Kevin Butler's field goal from 25 yards was blocked by nose tackle Henry Thomas, who had a hand and his nose in the Bears' face all day.
The Bears' defense wasn't done testing its offense. Carter's recovery started the Bears at the Lions' 37. Green ran for 2 on first down, Conway dropped a pass on second down and Kramer scrambled under pressure on third down, gaining 1 yard.
Needing a big play, Wannstedt asked for a 52-yard field goal from Butler. But the Bears didn't have a big-play game.
"The ball was bouncing for us earlier this season and now it is cutting our throat," linebacker Ron Cox said. "We've just got to play like we did in high school."
Speaking of high school, the pass defense was outclassed again. As anticipated, the 1-2 punch of Brett Perriman and Herman Moore was too much, combining for 208 yards on 18 catches. That overshadowed Graham (5 catches, 109 yards), who became the first Bears receiver since Harlon Hill in 1956 to surpass 100 yards in passing yardage in three straight games.
But the Lions didn't play off Graham the way the Bears had starting cornerbacks James Burton and Kevin Miniefield allow Perriman and Moore luxurious cushions of 5 to 7 yards.
"They're going to get some balls and we were trying not to press them," Wannstedt explained. "We just didn't want them to make big plays, and we did a good job."
That's in the eye of the beholder. The fans went away still viewing the pass defense as a marshmallow resistance.
After all, it was Moore who slanted to the middle and away from Miniefield for the 11-yard scoring reception that clinched the outcome in the fourth quarter.
"We need to find ourselves," Conway said.
Offensive tackle James Williams added: "It's a gut check. This is a shock to our system the last three games."
But Wannstedt vowed: "We can still get in the playoffs."
If they do, chances are that playoff spot won't be won until the last minute. These Bears don't have the talent to dominate, only to confuse.
"We've gotten to the last two minutes of every game this season," said vastly improved linebacker Barry Minter, "with a chance to win or lose. We've got to feel good about ourselves to do that. We're never out of it."
But they have a good head start in that direction.