Bears show some life in OT win

So, maybe Curtis Conway had a point.

Less work, not more, the wide receiver said a week ago, was just the tonic a lethargic and recently defeated Bears team needed to find itself. And lo and behold, after a week in which travel time from Ireland exceeded practice time in Platteville, the Bears actually looked a bit more nimble in Saturday's 20-17 overtime victory over the Buffalo Bills.

New Bears quarterback Rick Mirer and current backup Erik Kramer passed for a touchdown apiece as the Bears managed to overcome 18 penalties through the first three quarters--10 in the third alone--a poor ground game and an uneven defensive effort to notch their first victory of the exhibition season.

"It has got to be easier than that," an exasperated but relieved coach Dave Wannstedt exclaimed.

In the end, it took field goals of 27 and 42 yards by Jeff Jaeger at the end of regulation and in the sudden-death period, both culminating drives engineered by third-string quarterback Steve Stenstrom. And suddenly, winning in the preseason was being given a higher priority.

"There's nothing else can give you confidence more than a win like that," Mirer said. "It took an effort on everybody's part, and it was good to see us come together a little bit. You win those games in the preseason when it could go either way and the guys really rally. . . ."

Wannstedt and his team had modest hopes for Saturday's game after a shortened week of practice.

And early on, their expectations appeared right on target.

The Bears' offense, which failed to cross midfield against Pittsburgh last Sunday in the exhibition opener in Dublin, was similarly inept early on against the Bills.

The Bears would manage just 18 yards total in the first quarter, the high point being the punting of Todd Sauerbrun, who boomed his first kick 70 yards.

The Bears would sabotage themselves with dropped passes and a grounding penalty by Mirer. And yet, they actually could consider themselves lucky as one fumble (by Rashaan Salaam) was nullified by a Bills penalty; another by Mirer bounced straight up to him; and a questionable call on a Bills punt and apparent down on the 2-yard line that was instead called a touchback.

The Bears would gain some momentum from the break as things would brighten up considerably in the second quarter.

On the ensuing possession, Mirer completed all five of his pass attempts, the last one going for a 50-yard touchdown by Bobby Engram, who snared the ball in stride over the middle and outran the Bills' secondary with a big assist on a block by Curtis Conway.

Mirer would work deep into the second quarter--20 plays in all as he would complete 6 of 10 passes for 81 yards and the touchdown. "I finally just felt good, a got a few completions and got a little rhythm," Mirer said. "That's the thing that has been lacking. I feel it's coming, but it hasn't happened real fast and this was definitely a step in the right direction."

Erik Kramer, who finished with 8 for 19 for 64 yards, one touchdown, one interception and one sack, relieved him just in time to take advantage of a fumbled snap by third-string Buffalo quarterback Jim Ballard and recovery by linebacker Barry Minter to give the Bears the ball on the Bills 15.

Kramer would take the team's first snap in enemy territory and three plays later, on a third-and-1, find receiver Ricky Proehl in the end zone for a 6-yard touchdown play to give the Bears a 14-7 lead.

But Kramer was incensed with the play of a second-string line that gave him little protection in the second half and squandered several opportunities with penalties.

"This isn't acceptable," he said. "Some of these young guys have to step up. These second-string guys have to get going."

The Bears would again struggle on the ground with just 20 yards rushing on 10 carries--starters Raymont Harris gaining just 15 yards on five carries and Rashaan Salaam finding even fewer holes with just 2 yards on three carries. "We have a long way to go there," Wannstedt said. "We just weren't executing. It wasn't a lack of effort. To be a good offense, that's where we have to start."

Defensively, the Bears were looking for improvement particularly in their run defense, but they came away Saturday with more worries about their pass rush and their secondary as second-year corner Walt Harris again looked vulnerable.

But Wannstedt was happy to get the win. "I was happy to see Jaeger kick that kick at the end," he said. "That's a confidence-builder. We can kid about it--it's preseason, we know all that. But it's a 42-yard kick, and they were coming to block it and it was good."