All Bears' pieces are in pieces

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You know you have a problem when three games into the season, your punter is your most valuable player. When two losses create a hole that already seems insurmountable.

And when you look around the locker room and have to wonder not so much how to recover, but if you're going to have enough bodies to even think about it.

Such is the lament of the Bears this Monday morning. This is a team whose lofty hopes two weeks ago are now as fragile as the loose debris blowing about Soldier Field in the cool and dreary aftermath of a 20-14 loss Sunday to the Minnesota Vikings.

Losing to a beatable division opponent at home, in a game deemed critical for a Bears club vowing to take this season by the proverbial horns, is indeed a staggering blow, if not a crushing one.

It leaves them 1-2 and already two games behind Green Bay and Minnesota in the NFC Central.

But it gets worse. Starting fullback Raymont Harris, who missed all but one play of last season with a broken collarbone, is in danger of missing the rest of this season with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee. Harris, who was hurt attempting a block on the second play of the fourth quarter, is out for at least eight weeks, the Bears said.

Cornerback Donnell Woolford and receiver Michael Timpson also sustained knee injuries serious enough to require MRIs on Monday. Reserve Tony Carter's hamstring injury depletes the fullback corps.

"It was a bad day all around," Timpson said.

It was a day that continued to cast questions on the Bears' offense, raised more serious concerns about their kicking game and even saw a stalwart defense beaten and demoralized.

"All of our expectations, everything we worked for and strived for, we're just not seeing it right now, and it's very frustrating," said safety Mark Carrier.

The Bears struck first on a 5-yard pass from Erik Kramer to Bobby Engram late in the first quarter, the first passing touchdown of the season for Kramer, who had a club-record 29 last season. But that was the only offensive score for the Bears, whose other points came on a 28-yard interception return by Woolford for a 14-7 lead in the second quarter.

"We're struggling on offense, we know that," said Bears coach Dave Wannstedt. "It's going to be tough to beat anyone in this league scoring one touchdown. We had some chances to make some plays and just didn't do it. And the turnover thing got us again."

The "turnover thing" amounted to three interceptions by Kramer, two on consecutive attempts in the second quarter, the latter giving the Vikings the ball on the Bears' 25-yard line. The Bears' defense pushed them 5 yards back on the first two plays of the drive, but Warren Moon, playing for the first time since spraining both ankles in the Vikings' opener, found wideout Jake Reed at the goal line on the next play for a 29-yard touchdown to tie the game at 14.

The Vikings, off to their first 3-0 start since 1975, gained 377 yards in total offense to 299 yards for the Bears.

"What we have to think about is what we're going to see on film," said defensive end Alonzo Spellman, "and what we're going to see is missed assignments, not getting up the field and making people cut back, letting them run outside and turning the ball over."

But it was again the offense, and specifically Kramer, who carried the brunt of this one. "I hold myself accountable to play, and I haven't done my part," Kramer said.

Kramer finished 18 for 40 for 199 yards, one touchdown pass and three interceptions, and was just as mystified with the offensive breakdowns as he was after the first two games.

"If I had the answers, I'd put them into practice out there," he said. "We're just not playing at a high level. We're making some plays, but not able to finish drives."

"It's mind-boggling," said wide receiver Curtis Conway, who had four catches for 69 yards Sunday, but has not caught a touchdown pass in the last nine games.

Two fourth-quarter field goals by the Vikings--33- and 34-yarders by Scott Sisson, the latter coming in the final 6 seconds--was more than necessary for the victory.

The Bears, meanwhile, only had excuses, beginning with a questionable interference call on corner Kevin Miniefield on a third and 8 from the Minnesota 36-yard line on the Vikings' second-to-last scoring drive.

The other call the Bears had problems with came on what turned out to be their last play of the game--an out-of-bounds ruling on a Kramer pass to Timpson on a fourth and 2 from their own 18. "The replay clearly shows I was inbounds," Timpson said.

"But you have to be good enough to not have it come down to that," Wannstedt said. "When we take the lead 14-7 and get the ball back at the 50-yard line, we have to be able to make something happen at that point, and that was the critical point in the game."

That point was the first of Kramer's interceptions. "We have to be good enough to knock them out at that point," Wannstedt said.

Likewise, Carlos Huerta was not good enough to convert a 44-yard field-goal attempt with 10:35 left in the game that would have given the Bears the lead. It hit the left upright and made it three straight weeks Huerta has missed a makable kick, and caused Wannstedt to say that he would have to re-evaluate the kicking position.

"Yeah, we've got to take a look at that and see if that's giving us the best chance to win or not," he said. "Obviously, it hasn't been very good the last two weeks."

The same could be said for the Bears' immediate outlook, which is scary at best with a date at Detroit next Sunday.

"This is just extremely frustrating in and of itself," said offensive tackle Andy Heck. "I don't know how it can be more frustrating."

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