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Patients running out: Injuries kill Bears' comeback
This time, the clock swallowed up the Bears at midfield before their offense could stall at the goal line.
Looking on the bright side, it saved them the agony of dwelling on the fact that their offense can't punch it in, leaving them only to ponder where the punch has gone.
All of which still found them Sunday on the losing end of a 14-10 decision to the Kansas City Chiefs, and despite their admirable defiance, still in the clutches of an ever-shrinking playoff window at 4-7 with five games left.
Playing the part of hard-luck team to perfection, the Bears pushed one of the best teams in the league to the brink for the second week in a row, arguing they could have won, should have won. But unlike last week, when they faced a first-and-goal from the Denver Broncos' 1-yard-line with time running out, there was not much reason Sunday to believe the Bears could pull themselves together for one last scoring drive in the final 46 seconds.
Not after a second half in which they were held to minus-1 yard rushing, following a 36-yard first half. Not after two Bears turnovers inside the Chiefs' 32-yard line wiped out scoring chances in the second half and negated a defensive effort that held the Chiefs scoreless after halftime.
The Chiefs' offense got its work done in the first half. After the Bears' opening drive, they retaliated with a 60-yard drive and scored on Steve Bono's 20-yard pass to Chris Penn.
In the second quarter, they went up 14-7 on a 10-yard run by Kimble Anders, finishing off a 69-yard drive.
"We've been so discouraged all year," said linebacker Vinson Smith. "We've just been behind all year, whether it's been injuries, bad calls. Now we're saying let's just play. We've been through enough bad times; we have five games left. Let's just enjoy ourselves and whatever happens, happens. That's the best way to approach it right now."
If that wasn't exactly a concession speech, it adequately represents a collective state of wary acceptance.
Poor health continued to bite the Bears, first with the news that swelling in Rashaan Salaam's hyperextended knee--injured in practice last week--would keep him out of the contest. Then the offense lost Raymont Harris, Michael Timpson and Curtis Conway to injuries during the game, squelching whatever offensive options remained.
The first offensive series was the best the Bears had to offer--a seven-play, 75-yard drive that included a mixture of play-action passes to Conway (one going for 27 yards) and Tony Carter, and a strong 14-yard touchdown run up the middle by Harris.
That and a 49-yard field goal by Jeff Jaeger gets the Bears a 12.5-point scoring average the last four weeks and two straight losses. Not much more.
"We had opportunities and again our guys kept fighting and kept fighting," said Bears coach Dave Wannstedt. "But we didn't take advantage of those chances. It's as simple as that."
One of their best chances came after Walt Harris recovered a Bono fumble forced by John Thierry that put the Bears at the Kansas City 47 late in the third quarter.
Three plays later, rookie receiver Bobby Engram spoiled a 10-yard pass play with a fumble, handing the ball back to the Chiefs on their own 32.
"I even tried to cover it, but there are no excuses for putting the ball on the ground," Engram said.
The Bears' last realistic shot at the end zone began with a 29-yard pass play to Carter, but ended with another turnover--this time a Dave Krieg interception by Mark Collins in the end zone on third and 17 from the Chiefs' 26 with 3:59 remaining.
Engram took the blame for that one too.
"It was a situation where you can't ask for anything more," he said. "Dave put the ball out there; he made a good throw. I was running the corner and I should have at least batted it down or tried to pull it away from him, just not let him intercept the ball in that situation."
Making the situation more difficult, however, was that the Bears were forced into some odd late-game lineups. Playing the final eight minutes without Raymont Harris, who twisted his left knee, Robert Green alternated between tailback and wide receiver. Green found himself there after second-half injuries to Timpson, who bruised his right knee, and Conway, who played part time late in the game with a sprained ankle.
Those injuries especially limited the Bears on their final drive, when undrafted rookie tight end Bobby Neely, who had a solid game with five catches for 55 yards, had to carry the bulk of the work. But two completions to him were in the middle of the field and they helped kill the clock. The game ended with the Bears at the Chiefs' 43.
"We were obviously trying to get the ball out of bounds to get the clock stopped," Wannstedt explained of the final two plays, "but it didn't happen that way."
At best, the Bears would have been left with a "Hail Mary" opportunity, which best describes their chances of still reaching the playoffs with Detroit, Green Bay, St. Louis, San Diego and Tampa Bay remaining on their schedule. Even five wins wouldn't guarantee them a spot.
"We're playing some decent football the last four weeks, we just haven't been able to come up with the win and that's the bottom line," said Smith. "You can play hard and be close every game. But unless you're the winner, then it really doesn't make any difference, does it?"