Justice served: Bears' shocker is deserved

FootballSportsChicago BearsEmmitt SmithJason GarrettMarty CarterBobby Engram

If you're still watching, stop trying to figure them out.

There is no statistical category for fairness, just as there is none for heartbreak. These Bears merely take each week as it comes and thank the football gods when they are allowed to survive.

Take solace in the fact that they confuse and confound each other as much as they do everyone else and know that Jeff Jaeger's 29-yard field goal to push the Bears past the Dallas Cowboys 13-12 Sunday may be as good as it gets.

"We're learning that there is no justice," said quarterback Erik Kramer, who seemingly tightropes between hero and goat status on a weekly basis. "But hopefully we've paid some dues for not getting the bounces going our way early in the year, not getting any calls . . . and hopefully, we have enough money in the bank to carry us through the rest of the season."

After tiptoeing through the first half, almost giving it away again in the third and finally eking it out in the fourth on a game-winning drive heavy on persecuted rookies, the Bears were alone in their righteousness. Just the same, the ever-improving defense snapped the two-game, 100-yard rushing streak held by Emmitt Smith, the NFC's leading rusher, thoroughly frustrated Troy Aikman's impressive young replacement Jason Garrett and once again covered up for the offense's deficiencies.

Playing an opponent sufficiently softened up by victories over winless teams the last two weeks, the Bears still played scared, shellshocked by fresh memories of 13 turnovers over their previous two games. Once again, the strategy was to simply hang around long enough to have a chance. What they translated to, however, was an offense so tentative it seemed to be moving backward.

"I think the coaches probably went into the game thinking we're not going to do anything to lose this game before we try to win it," said Kramer, apologizing for not making sense but being completely understood. "They wanted to make sure we didn't put the ball up for grabs. We protected the ball and we made Dallas have to earn whatever they got."

The Cowboys, indeed, had to feel shorted by just two 23-yard first-half field goals by Richie Cunningham. The first was set up by an Edgar Bennett fumble at the Bears' 14-yard line, a Dallas drive that sputtered despite a first and goal at the 3.

The second scoring drive received a jump-start with an odd 36-yard Garrett-to-Eric Bjornson strike that began with a rollout right by Garrett and ended with Bjornson on the left sideline, apparently faking out most of the Bears' defense. But, as would be the case all afternoon, the Cowboys stalled near the goal line.

The Cowboys converted just 2 of 12 third-down opportunities, repeatedly finding themselves in, and failing on, third-and-longs. For the day, the Bears' defense had its best showing of the season in holding Dallas to 236 net yards.

"This defense is playing together the best I've ever seen, the best since I've been a member of the Bears," said fifth-year tackle Jim Flanigan, whose third-quarter sack of Garrett gave him a team-high 5 1/2 for the year. "It's just a really good feeling out there this season, that every guy can trust the guy next to him. I don't know if we're a dominant defense or if we have any Pro Bowl guys, but we'll beat teams."

The Bears' three-man rush on passing downs repeatedly rattled Garrett, who threw for just 136 yards on 14 of 26 completions with one touchdown pass, two fumbles and an interception.

The Bears had an ideal chance to take the lead at the end of the half on a fumble by Garrett on the snap deep in Cowboys' territory, but Bears end John Thierry tried to scoop the ball instead of pouncing on it and the Cowboys recovered at their 2.

At that point, the Bears certainly seemed to be headed down the same self-destructive path. But with Curtis Conway shaken up by a mild concussion in the last drive of the first half and on the sideline for the first two drives of the third quarter, the Bears finally opened up the offense and snapped their 11-game third-quarter scoring draught.

They took the lead at 7-6 with a six-play, 84-yard drive that included a 31-yard completion to Bobby Engram and a 13-yard touchdown pass threaded just behind a waiting Chris Penn, who hung on despite being crunched by Cowboys safety Omar Stoutmire.

A Kramer interception on the Bears' next series left the Cowboys at midfield following a penalty on the return by Dexter Coakley. Seven plays later, Garrett found tight end David LaFleur wide open in the end zone, but the Cowboys missed a two-point conversion try and as it turned out, it was just the margin necessary for the Bears' victory.

After watching their defense outperform the Cowboys all day, however, the Bears' offense finally assumed responsibility. Their most impressive drive of the game--a 14-play, 67-yard march--opened the fourth quarter and culminated in a 22-yard field goal by Jaeger. Then, after another Bears defensive stand, they turned their fortunes over to their youngsters.

Fourth-round draft pick Alonzo Mayes, known best up until now for some key drops and a fumble in critical situations, caught two passes for 41 yards, and top pick Curtis Enis, told his playing time would be reduced, rushed once for 11 yards to keep the drive going.

Still tentative, the Bears milked the clock and played for the field goal. This time the conservative strategy worked with Jaeger's 29-yarder, which gave the Bears their margin of victory with just 11 seconds remaining.

"On that last drive, some of the guys on the sideline were saying `Score, score, score.' But they have to understand that at that particular time, it was better to play for the field goal, run out the clock and give ourselves a chance to win," said Penn. "That's what we did. As long as we play smart, we'll be a good team."

Now 2-5 with next Sunday's game at 3-3 Tennessee leading into their bye week, the Bears are guardedly optimistic to say the least.

"When we got our first win (against Detroit two weeks ago), a lot of guys broke their arms patting themselves on the back," said tackle Mike Wells. "We have to put a couple of strong games together, but we're playing as a group now, as a family, and that's a great sign."

"If nothing else," said Marty Carter, "people should know that we'll fight. That we won't quit. Maybe our talent level isn't (as high as most teams), but as long as we lean on each other and our offense gives us a chance, the sky's the limit."

Or winning at least one more game.

"Now," said Kramer, "we just have to learn to deal with a little success."

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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