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It feels good to beat up on somebody
A cynic would say these were the St. Louis Rams we're talking about here, a team whose lack of discipline is exceeded only by a lack of brain matter. That the Bears' 35-9 victory Sunday was emotionally satisfying in the same way a bag of potato chips is nutritionally fulfilling.
Anything less, however, and the brave souls who did stick it out at Soldier Field with little to huddle against except the 22,000 empty seats next to them, may well have tumbled out of the stands and joined the free-for-all unfolding below.
Anything less and Bears linebacker Joe Cain would not have blessed us with the observation that, "What goes around comes around. Even when it's stupidity."
So it was that on a day when the Bears played with above-average ability and well-above-average tenacity, they were fortunate enough to run into a team with none of the above.
And if that isn't enough to warm the hearts of apathetic Bears fans this Monday morning, maybe it should be.
"They came out today and they were determined that they were going to do everything they possibly could to finish this thing out as strong as they could," Bears coach Dave Wannstedt said of his team.
At 6-8 and now mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, the Bears do not lack for an agenda. A .500 record with games remaining against San Diego and Tampa Bay is both reachable and worthwhile--lower draft choice notwithstanding.
"This win was something we needed," said offensive tackle James Williams. "A lot of the people that played today will be back next year, and we need things to build on."
On a personal level, the rest of the season is significant as well for many Bears, and to that end, several gave Wannstedt something to think about.
Foremost was Rashaan Salaam, who kept the tailback race interesting with a season-best 115 yards on 19 carries.
"It feels pretty good to run for 100 yards, but it feels bad for them to put me in there with no chance of the playoffs," Salaam said.
Raymont Harris, who sprained his ankle on the final drive of the second quarter and was limited to 26 yards on 10 carries for the day, remains the front-runner. But Salaam did not mince words when asked what his performance meant.
"I just showed them they have two starting tailbacks in the same backfield," he said.
The Rams, whose defense ranks among the worst in the league, barely gave themselves a chance to fail fair and square, sabotaging their efforts with 13 penalties for 102 yards and two ejections.
A 25-yard field goal by Chip Lohmiller in the second quarter was the closest they came to the end zone until a 19-yard touchdown pass from backup quarterback Jamie Martin to Eddie Kennison in garbage time.
The Bears' offense, meanwhile, took advantage of good field position (it began four drives at its 40 or better) by scoring twice--on a 1-yard run by Dave Krieg to break open the game at 21-3 in the third quarter and on a 4-yard run by Salaam with 4 minutes 26 seconds remaining in the game.
There also was an impressive eight-play, 92-yard drive to open the game, which culminated with a 27-yard touchdown pass from Krieg to Curtis Conway, and a 10-play, 81-yard march that ended with a 3-yard touchdown run by Salaam.
"The defense has played extremely well all year," said Krieg who, except for throwing an end-zone interception before the half, had a good passing day with 226 yards, completing 17 of 25. "When we came back out in the second half, we refocused. We didn't want to allow any complacency on our part."
Complacency was not evident on either side of the ball in the second half. Extracurricular activity was evident after almost every other play, resulting in the third-quarter ejection of Rams talented wide receiver Isaac Bruce and the double ejection of the Bears' Alonzo Spellman and Rams rookie quarterback Tony Banks following an altercation with 2:43 remaining.
Bruce was enraged by what he thought was an illegal chuck on a play that ended up as a tipped pass by corner Walt Harris and an interception by Anthony Marshall. The Bears did not score on the ensuing possession, but did find the end zone after the punt, when the ball twice bounced off Kennison before ending up with Michael Lowery in the end zone, giving the Bears a 28-3 lead.
Was Sunday a case of the Bears taking out a season's worth of frustration on the talented but hapless Rams?
"I think it makes us angry to a point where we know that if we had the same focus and had everybody healthy early in the season, right now we'd be going to the playoffs," Spellman said.
The question left Vinson Smith, who will definitely miss Saturday's game against San Diego with a severely sprained ankle, simply staring off in the distance.
"We're still wondering why we can't beat Green Bay," he said, "because we've played so well against other teams."