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Young Bears waste chances
On any given Sunday, three fumbles, six sacks of your quarterback and one mixed-up punter stands a good chance of losing a road game in the NFL.
On this given Sunday, however, one fumble, a couple of key drops, two missed field goals and a penchant for penalties in critical situations evened the field and ultimately tilted it in the direction of the grateful if not exactly opportunistic Seattle Seahawks.
Such is the ongoing maturation process of a young team still searching for its identity.
Such was this sunny but sorry Sunday for the Bears: March down the field as if you own the place on the first series of the game only to fumble on the 2-yard line, then watch the last receiver you cut in the preseason score the game-winning touchdown.
The Seahawks' 14-13 victory at Soldier Field should not have been. At the same time, the Bears (1-1) had no business winning.
Fill-in kicker Brian Gowins missed two of four field goals, including a 48-yarder that would have won the game for the Bears with eight seconds remaining. But his teammates were understandably sympathetic.
"They told me we shouldn't have been that close," said the dejected Gowins. "There were a lot of other missed opportunities. Mine just happened to be the most glaring."
As in their season-opening victory against Kansas City last week, the Bears jumped to an early lead only to fade in the second half, both offensively and defensively. Against Seattle, they led 13-0 after three quarters, then sputtered.
A Bears defense that had five sacks and two fumble recoveries in the first half alone allowed a nine-play, 80-yard drive early in the fourth that yielded a 34-yard touchdown pass from Glenn Foley to Derrick Mayes over a prone Bears safety Chris Hudson.
Then, on the Seahawks' next drive, Foley got Walt Harris to bite on a double-pump and found former Bears receiver Fabien Bownes down the right sideline for a 49-yard touchdown and the decisive score.
After giving his troops a stern lecture at halftime about not getting complacent, Bears defensive coordinator Greg Blache said he was horrified to hear the public-address announcer reading the defensive stats to the crowd as the teams took the field.
"I went, `Aw, please don't do it,' " Blache said. "It was hard to get the guys back together again and downplay that. I hated to hear it. It wasn't a kiss of death because I don't believe in fatalism, but at the same time I was like, `No, please, this is going to make the job that much tougher.' "
"It's human nature. When your belly gets full, you have a tendency not to fight as hard as when you're hungry. I didn't like that. I didn't think it was good for our guys to hear it, and it proved to be true."
A penalty on former Bear Chris Canty for fair-catch interference gave the Bears a good start at their own 42. But a drive that included a 21-yard completion from Shane Matthews to Bobby Engram on a third-and-15 from their own 48 fizzled on the Seattle 25 when Curtis Enis dropped a short pass on third-and-4. The Bears settled for a 43-yard Gowins field goal.
For Enis, the drop hurt that much more considering his fumble on the Seattle 2 on the opening drive of the game.
"When I get an opportunity and the ball's thrown to me and it hits my hands, I should catch it," said Enis, who scored the first rushing touchdown of his NFL career and the Bears' only touchdown of the game on a 2-yard run in the second quarter.
Glyn Milburn set up his team again on their next possession with a 30-yard kickoff return to the Bears' 41-yard line. This time, however, Marcus Robinson dropped a gimme on a third-and-5 at the Seattle 41.
"We had chances all day to put these guys away and we kept shooting ourselves in the foot," Matthews said. "You just can't let teams hang around when you have chances to put points on the board."
Matthews, 22 of 42 for 212 yards, was culpable as well with several poor passes and several more deflections at the line. But it wasn't his fault on the Bears' final series when his teammates committed three of their 13 penalties to make the challenge that much harder.
Matthews bailed out the Bears with a 24-yard completion to Robinson on second-and-25 from the Bears' 47. But a screen to Ryan Wetnight on third-and-1 was stopped for a 1-yard loss, setting up Gowins' final unsuccessful field goal attempt.
"It never should have come down to that situation," said Curtis Conway, consistently double-teamed and held to three catches for 26 yards after catching nine for 88 last week. "We were up 13 points. The game should've never ended that way. We should have put those guys away. I could understand if we were tied at halftime, but when you're up 13 points, you have to learn how to stomp them into the ground."
The Bears gained 311 yards in total offense compared with 388 last week. But they were considerably less effective on third down (7 for 18) and more than anything hurt themselves with mistakes and penalties in key situations.
"(The Seahawks) started to figure out the offense a little bit," said Bears offensive coordinator Gary Crowton, "but you've got to get it into the end zone. It wasn't that we weren't trying or a lack of concentration. I think we were getting too aggressive."
For Seattle coach Mike Holmgren, it was his 11th straight coaching victory over the Bears, the others coming with the Green Bay Packers. "Hopefully, this jump-starts us," he said in reference to the Seahawks' season-opening loss to Detroit.
The Bears' hopes clearly are that the loss will serve as a learning experience.
"It was a tough day," said Bears coach Dick Jauron. "I felt bad for our team. . . . When you have opportunities, you have to take advantage of them. Not to take advantage of the first drive and not to take advantage of the field position (Milburn's day included punt and kickoff returns of 54 and 36 yards, respectively) and put points on the board will come back to haunt you."
And indeed it did, hurting the Bears all the more that it happened at home.
"Playoff teams win at home, and we have to realize that," said tackle Mike Wells. "We're really learning things about who we are and what we're going to do. Still, don't be surprised to see us there at the end. That's all we're working for."
That determination reverberated around the locker room and was echoed by Blache, sounding every bit the general: "We're a little down right now. We took one in the chops. But we'll be back to fight another day and we'll fight the good fight."