Bears drop ball, refs flags

SportsFootballChicago BearsCurtis ConwayDeathShane MatthewsGlyn Milburn

Just three games in and already it seems redundant. Already, the mistakes seem to be turning into bad habits and the explanations into excuses.

A team with a bright new coaching staff and a fresh, exciting offense lost its second game in a row Sunday, 24-17 to Oakland, looking undisciplined and stagnant in a game Bears players have every right to say they should have won. And every reason to offer for why they didn't.

They still look better than they used to. They extricate themselves from third-and-long situations that never had a chance in years past. They definitely have the ability to pull out close games. And more and more, they're making the other guys look bad.

But there's this little problem of not pouncing when the opponent is vulnerable, like after five Raiders turnovers Sunday. And of allowing the other team to bail itself out of its own messes, like Oakland converting 62 percent of its third downs.

And then there's this very, very big problem with penalties--17 for 121 yards by the Bears, at least a half-dozen of which stalled drives. Another half-dozen killed them completely.

"I believe there's a divine plan and know things happen for a reason," said running back Curtis Enis. "I believe Oakland should have won today. We just have to look at it and see how we can better ourselves as a team--offense, defense and special teams--to where we can come out and be in a situation where we can win a football game."

To do that, Enis will have to finish with more than 35 yards rushing in 15 carries. The Bears will have to eliminate turnovers like the fumble by Curtis Conway on the Bears' 41-yard line in the first quarter, and the interception by Shane Matthews giving the Raiders the ball on the Bears 33 just before the half--both leading to Oakland touchdowns.

And they will have to stop doing things like negating a 68-yard kickoff return by Glyn Milburn, which they did with another holding penalty early in the fourth quarter. And committing three penalties in one series--two by rookie offensive tackle Jerry Wisne in his first start--that turns a second-quarter 31-yard completion from Cade McNown to Macey Brooks on a third-and-18 from the Raiders 14 into dust.

Twice the Bears knocked the wind out of Oakland drives with turnovers only to turn the ball right back over on the next drives.

"In this league, the talent is so equal, you can't make as many mistakes as we're making and win," said Matthews. "There's no way. If we don't do that, who knows what our record may be right now?"

Probably not 1-2 as it is now. But then, who knows? The Bears' two longest offensive drives, mistakes or not, went 47 and 45 yards, both of which ended in missed field goals by the returning Jeff Jaeger. The other went 35, and initiated by a fumble recovery, resulted in a 16-yard touchdown pass from Matthews to Enis in the third quarter.

The Bears' only other touchdown--an 11-yard pass from Matthews to Conway in the first quarter--was set up by a 93-yard kickoff return by Milburn.

Their average offensive drive went just 13 yards. And they were just 4 of 13 on third-down conversions.

"We went for a couple shots deep," said Bears offensive coordinator Gary Crowton. "And Curtis Conway was hurt for most of the game (leg cramps hampered him in the second half). The rush game had problems. But penalties hurt us more than anything."

The penalties were not just game-altering. Combined with the nine committed by the Raiders, they were mind-numbing.

"I don't know if it was a lack of concentration or what," said Bears offensive tackle James Williams. "It was loud, but you can't use the noise and the stadium as an excuse. The game was called kind of tight, they made a lot of close calls, but they made them on both sides of the ball, so we can't blame it on the officials. We're professional athletes and we have to play through all that. We have to deal with it."

Every time the Bears seized momentum, they promptly handed it back. Following a valiant last stand by what had to be a tired Bears defense, Matthews fumbled to seal the Raiders' victory.

"It was a tough loss, a painful one," said Bears coach Dick Jauron.

But not one that had Bears players any less defiant than they were after an equally painful loss to Seattle last week.

"You guys might think we've hit a wall, but that's for you all to write about," Matthews said afterward. "We don't care. We lost by a touchdown. We could have easily won this game. If I don't throw the interception, we're ahead 13-7 at the half and who knows what might have happened? We'll be ready for New Orleans."

Fullback Ty Hallock described mixed emotions in the locker room. "There's a good attitude in this locker room," he said. "Guys are scratching and fighting and clawing. We think we have a good football team and we're going to win some games down the stretch because even in just the third week, with every battle, we're getting closer. We're believing in one another, we just have to turn the tide."

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