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A bumbling, bittersweet night
The Bears did what they had to do Sunday night. And it left them with a coach confused, a defense feeling betrayed and an offense resentful.
It also left them with a 13-10 victory over a dreadful St. Louis Rams outfit, their third victory in the last four weeks, if you can believe it; and a fall to sixth place in the ever-changing draft picture.
"I don't know what this means in the big picture, I really don't," coach Dave Wannstedt said. "And at this point, I really don't care. It's just a tough situation to be coaching in right now."
What he did was only what his bosses, Bears fans and good sense dictated he do--namely insert Rick Mirer at quarterback for Erik Kramer early in the second half, regardless of the 7-7 tie and Kramer's momentum, and let the situation play itself out. But now, with a lower draft order anyway, and only more evidence of what they already knew, it left a bitter taste in the winning locker room.
"I feel like we lost," said linebacker Ron Cox, speaking for a unit that forced five turnovers--four in the final 16 1/2 minutes--had five sacks, allowed 164 total yards and continually handed the ball to their offense at midfield or better. "We should have dominated this game with the field position we gave them. A lot of guys on defense had their hearts hurt.
"I came here to win and they're playing people and switching people around? Do it in the preseason. This game is too precious to us, and the key is to win. I wouldn't be out there playing hurt like I did (after injuring his knee on the second play of the game) otherwise."
His feelings were shared by Kramer, who was not surprised by his departure after closing out one half and one series with 14 of 22 completions for 186 yards, one touchdown and one interception, but was disheartened.
"The plan was for some guys to get a late-season audition," he said. "The plan is not so much to win the game as to get those guys in. . . . (But) there is no question it hurts the progress of the whole team, and it's frustrating to be a part of that."
For his part, Mirer, who finished with just one completion in seven attempts for 8 yards, one interception and the high point, one key 20-yard run to set up a late field goal, has yet to lead the Bears to a touchdown in six games and three starts this season.
"I guess I understand (Kramer) because everybody here wants to play," he said. "But the reality is these aren't games that make or break our season and it's important to find out what's going on at different positions and what's possible.
"It just felt good to win. It wasn't the prettiest thing I've ever seen, but the defense gave us the ball and we got enough done to win."
Mirer relieved Kramer on the second possession of the second half and promptly had his first pass knocked backward at midfield.
It did not get much better after that.
An 8-yard pass to Chris Penn was the highlight of a quarter that also included an interception zipped directly into the arms of Rams corner Todd Lyght at the Rams 19-yard line. This followed the first of two interceptions by cornerback Walt Harris to give the Bears the ball at the Rams' 48-yard line.
But a comedy of errors assured that neither team would take control until late in the game when 27- and 20-yard Jeff Jaeger field goals inside of 5 minutes remaining and an interception by Tom Carter in the end zone with 1:39 left sealed the victory.
Following the Mirer interception, Bears end Mark Thomas recovered a fumble by Jerald Moore, giving the Bears the ball at midfield, where Mirer began the majority of Bears drives. That momentum, however, lasted approximately as long as it took Wannstedt to readjust his headset.
He lost it just minutes later when, following a failed attempt at drawing the home team offside in a very loud domed stadium, the Bears badly botched a fake punt attempt.
For the third time in the game, long snapper Harper Le Bel played the culprit with a high snap to John Mangum, who fumbled it away.
One play later, Harris snagged his second interception, but fumbled it away--the sixth change of possession in roughly 6 minutes.
This time, the Rams eked out a 28-yard field goal by Jeff Wilkins to take a 10-7 lead.
Mirer, who began drives, in order, from the Bears 29-yard-line, the Bears 48, the Bears 47, the Rams 48, the Bears 47, the Bears' 17 and the Rams 33, finally put his team on the board, thanks in large part to his own 20-yard scramble to the Rams 7-yard line. But the Bears had to settle for Jaeger's 27-yard field goal to tie the game at 10-10.
The go-ahead score came courtesy of the Bears' defense, when Bryan Cox forced a fumble and Jim Flanigan recovered on the Rams 7-yard line. Four plays later, Jaeger gave the Bears their margin of victory.
But the game left almost no one with a feeling of satisfaction.
"It bothers me," offensive tackle Andy Heck said of playing substitutes. "As far as I'm concerned, they better not try to take me out because I want to win."
As for the draft implications, Bears players reacted strongly to the suggestion that winning is a negative.
"Nobody here cares about draft order," tackle Carl Simpson said. "Who says (college) guys are going to be good? People here want to win."
Curtis Conway, with seven catches for 109 yards and a sparkling 55-yard TD catch all in the first two quarters, likened playing not to win to shaving points.
"If there are people like that, then I don't want to be playing with them," he said.
That seemed to be the general theme, and the drum that Wannstedt has been beating all season.
"I don't give a damn about draft picks," said Cox, still fuming. "It's not going to help the way I feel right now."