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No tricks, no treats this time
It was easy to blame the fumble. Simple to point to one miscue that led to one touchdown that made the difference in the Bears' 10-3 loss to the Washington Redskins on Sunday.
Much, much too easy. Too convenient. And wrong.
Funny how quickly a Super Bowl drive becomes a .500 record. Strange how a couple of trick plays are peeled back to reveal a suddenly absent offense that ultimately doomed the Bears on an oppressively muggy afternoon at RFK Stadium.
Yes, it was one swing that beat the Bears, a fumble by receiver Michael Timpson at 6:05 of the third quarter, which led to the only Redskins touchdown of the day. But in signaling a tangible shift of emotion that would carry Washington the rest of the way, it also served to symbolize the Bears' offensive paralysis.
Obscuring another solid performance by their defense as well as an outstanding outing by punter Todd Sauerbrun and his coverage team, the Bears' offense showed only brief signs of life.
Running back Robert Green rushed for a career-high 106 yards against the team that once cut him. And the Bears (1-1) managed to penetrate Redskins territory in four of six possessions in the first half. But a 37-yard field goal by Carlos Huerta late in the first quarter was as good as it got.
"It's tough to beat anybody in this league scoring three points," said Bears coach Dave Wannstedt. "I've seen signs of maturity with certain individuals in certain areas of our team, but we have to protect that football, it's as simple as that. We won one a week ago because we protected the ball, and we didn't do it today. The turnover thing is just terrible."
Though the Bears fumbled twice--Green dropped the ball on the Bears' first possession and it was recovered by teammate James "Big Cat" Williams--only Timpson's hurt them.
The wide receiver, who fumbled near the end zone last week on the Bears' first possession, was hit by safety Stanley Richard immediately after catching a pass from Kramer. Cornerback Darrell Green recovered the loose ball and returned it 14 yards to the Washington 39.
Washington quarterback Gus Frerotte immediately hit Henry Ellard for gains of 17 and 16 yards. Then, with the 52,711 in attendance doing their best to rattle the visitors, running back Terry Allen bounced outside of the oncoming Bears blitz and carried it 28 yards for the touchdown, adding to Scott Blanton's 50-yard field goal in the second quarter for a 10-3 lead.
"You don't want to put all the burden on one play, but that one play is obviously what sticks out in your mind when you lose the game 10-3," said Bears linebacker Bryan Cox. "We got caught in an inside blitz and they caught us outside. It wasn't a mental thing. They did a good job."
Still, the Bears were alive with a lively 2-minute drill that began at their own 4-yard line and had them looking at a second and 1 at the Redskins' 13. But three straight incomplete passes by Kramer in the last 22 seconds--one intended for Curtis Conway and the other two for Timpson, the last in the end zone--ended the game.
Wannstedt explained his thinking on third and 1. "We didn't have any timeouts left and there were only 18 seconds left," he said. "If we had tried to pick up the first, we would have had to clock the ball and we might have eliminated one or two plays."
This was the same Redskins team that gave up 257 passing yards in the first half to Philadelphia in last week's defeat. It was also the same Redskins team that came back in the second half and allowed just 1 yard passing and seemed to carry at least part of that momentum into this week's game.
Kramer finished 20 of 37 for 183 yards and threw one interception. Still, there was no denying that this was the second straight subpar week for Kramer and the offense--still without leading rusher Rashaan Salaam and tight end Keith Jennings. Kramer said he was as amazed as anyone as to what has led to the offense's nose dive after ranking as one of the best in the league last season.
"I am surprised," Kramer said. "Not every year and not every game is going to go according to plan and not everything is going to be easy. This just makes me think we have to push through and get back to doing well the things we know how to do.
"It's not execution overall, just breakdowns here and there that are key and that are causing us to get in long-yardage situations, and we can't have it. Nobody can overcome those things.
"I can't make excuses. All I know is we have to regroup."
The Bears improved from their horrendous 14 percent third-down efficiency in last week's victory over Dallas, but were still short of impressive at 5 of 16 for 31 percent.
The Bears' defense, which has now allowed just one touchdown in two games this season, tried to be charitable. "If they can hold our offense to three points," said linebacker Joe Cain, "we should be able to do the same to theirs."
Cox, who had the Bears' lone sack, concurred. "We didn't get it done together," he said. "It's the Chicago Bears, not the Chicago Bears defense and Chicago Bears offense. It's all three units working together, and today, we as the Chicago Bears weren't good enough."
"It's disappointing because this is one we needed to win," Wannstedt said before adding that, of course, they need every game. And with their first division game looming before them Sunday against Minnesota, that becomes especially true.
"The No. 1 thing we have to understand is that this is a 16-game season," reasoned Alonzo Spellman. "If we come out next week with the same fire and same emotion and win that game, then you can forget about everything else. Everything else is behind us. We have to win our division. That's where our mind-set has to be, on Minnesota and Minnesota right now."