Shades of '97: Offense sputters against Ravens

Two early possessions in the Bears' 19-14 exhibition loss Saturday night to the Baltimore Ravens provided an ominous look backward, to the kind of performances the Bears hoped they had left behind.

The Bears were pushed around, couldn't push a very mediocre team around at all and weren't even completely in agreement on what the problems were.

Midway through the first quarter, a Jim Harbaugh pass hit off the head of an official and into the arms of cornerback Walt Harris, who turned the bounce into the Bears' ball at the Baltimore 31.

But Edgar Bennett, who managed only two yards in four first-quarter carries in his Bears debut, managed only one of his yards on first down, followed by sacks on successive plays, dropping the Bears out of field-goal range. Todd Sauerbrun then ended the backpedaling with a punt five yards deep in the end zone for a touchback.

Baltimore then drove the Bears' defense backward 80 yards spanning 18 plays and 11 minutes 18 seconds--nearly twice as long as any opponent's drive all of 1997. The defensive front, without starting tackles Jim Flanigan and Mike Wells, was controlled to the point that safety Marty Carter initially was credited with nine tackles in the first half.

"It's hard to believe when you've seen the full-speed inside run drills (in camp) that we could come out here tonight and be as soft and as incompetent blocking people as what we were tonight," Bears coach Dave Wannstedt said.

What the Ravens didn't do to the Bears, the Bears did to themselves, another disturbing echo of '97. The defense helped sustain the endless Baltimore drive by jumping offsides once, and despite being handed a first-and-25 via penalty, were unable to keep the Ravens from converting.

Rookie safety Tony Parrish sacked Jim Harbaugh on a third down, but Carter was offsides. Harbaugh then scrambled for 14 yards on the extra play to sustain the drive at the Chicago 38. The Ravens ran nine more plays, ending with a two-yard touchdown run by running back Jay Graham.

The first half went so awry that starting quarterback Erik Kramer, who was supposed to play only 15 or so plays, was still on the field with one minute left in the half in order to get that many snaps.

The Bears had five first-half possessions and went three-and-out on four of them, with a 13-yard pass from Kramer to Curtis Conway on the second possession accounting for the only first down. The Bears ran 16 plays in the first half, four of them resulting in sacks. The offense, which led the NFL in time of possession in 1997, netted only seven yards and controlled the ball only 7:14 of the first 30 minutes.

There was less than complete agreement on the problem with the offense, which did not have a rushing yard through three quarters.

"We were real basic with what we were doing and we just didn't block them," Wannstedt said. "It looked like their motors were running; their defensive line was going a lot faster than our offensive line as far as intensity."

Intensity wasn't the problem as far as the line was concerned. "I don't think their motors were running faster than ours," tackle James Williams said. "It was more like a situation where four people were doing something right and one doing something wrong. We're not a solid enough team to have mistakes like that."

Linebacker Andre Collins intercepted an Eric Zeier pass off a receiver's hands and returned it 56 yards for a touchdown on the Ravens' first possession of the second half. Quarterback Steve Stenstrom scored for the Bears on a one-yard rollout on the next-to-last play of the half.

"It can't get any worse," Bears fullback Tremayne Allen said. "I know that we're a better team than we exhibited, especially as far as the running game is concerned."