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Half an effort doesn't cut it
The assumption is that something other than their own excellence was responsible for making the Philadelphia Eagles look like a playoff team Sunday.
The question is, did Cade McNown's debut as starting quarterback slow up the Bears just enough to stumble against an Eagles team that had been all but allergic to the road? Or did his teammates' mysterious case of first-half lethargy take away any chance the rookie had to succeed?
It probably was a little of the former and more of the latter as the Bears' defense allowed the Eagles 20 first-half points and the offense never recovered in a 20-16 defeat that marked Philadelphia's first victory ever in Chicago and its first road win since December 1996.
"It was a big letdown," guard Chris Villarrial said of a defeat that dropped the Bears to 3-3 and essentially erased last week's upset at Minnesota. "We came in off a huge win, one of the biggest wins in recent years, and I don't know if we took these guys too lightly or what."
McNown was 17 of 33 for 255 yards with two interceptions and a touchdown, an 80-yarder to Marcus Robinson that was the Bears' lone trip to the end zone. New field-goal kicker Chris Boniol was 3 for 4, connecting from 46, 40 and 41 yards.
But while McNown admittedly has a lot to learn about the NFL and the Bears' offense, Sunday's loss was as much a result of poor judgment by his teammates and poor effort by the defense. The Bears had nine penalties for 85 yards and the defense yielded 228 yards in the first half to a team that had been averaging 188 per game.
"We have to learn that every day you step on the field, you have to have high emotion to play this game," veteran defensive end Clyde Simmons said. "You don't play this game by lollygagging."
The Eagles (2-4) didn't punt in the first half as Doug Pederson, Brett Favre's old backup with the Packers, completed 16 of 22 passes for 207 yards and two touchdowns, a 57-yarder to Dietrich Jells over Walt Harris and a 3-yarder to tight end Luther Broughton in end-zone traffic.
With Norm Johnson's field goals of 28 and 27 yards--the latter set up by the first interception of McNown--the Eagles scored four times in six first-half possessions. Going into the game, they had been kept out of the end zone on 57 previous possessions.
Missed opportunities again made life more difficult than it had to be for the Bears. The killer was a leaping interception by Tony Parrish off a tip by Harris that was negated by a roughing-the-passer penalty on tackle Jim Flanigan on the Eagles' second series of the game. Flanigan claimed he was hit in the back and rolled into Pederson's knees.
"I was definitely trying to avoid the guy," Flanigan said. "I thought it was a poor call. It was a big momentum boost for those guys."
Indeed, the Eagles scored their first touchdown on the series that featured the bomb to Jells, essentially a game-turning swing, and the Bears never led again.
"You have to take advantage of those situations," Flanigan lamented, "especially at home."
McNown, meanwhile, learned more about life in the NFL in his first full game replacing the injured Shane Matthews. He was intercepted on two consecutive second-quarter possessions, but the Bears escaped with one Eagles field goal.
"I just need to be more patient," McNown said. One bad throw came after Macey Brooks slipped, but both went directly to defenders. "I thought I saw something that obviously wasn't there."
The Bears' defense began its recovery at the end of the first half with Flanigan forcing a fumble by Pederson that rookie Warrick Holdman returned 33 yards to the Eagles' 25. But Boniol missed a 32-yarder, encapsulating the Bears' first-half woes.
"It just felt so flat in the beginning," Villarrial said. "We weren't ourselves. The past couple of weeks, we haven't been taking (stuff) from anybody, (but) it seemed like we were a little timid in the first half. I don't know if we weren't playing to win or what. Then finally in the second half we started doing what we had to do."
The Bears' defense forced the Eagles to punt on six of seven second-half possessions while holding them to 88 yards, just 21 passing. And when McNown unloaded downfield to Robinson on the Bears' first series of the third quarter, they trailed just 20-13 and it appeared it still might be a game.
Despite crossing midfield four times in their final six possessions, though, the Bears scored just once more on a Boniol field goal. Conspicuous in that span was an illegal block by Edgar Bennett that negated Glyn Milburn's 30-yard punt return to the Eagles' 48 with 2:29 remaining.
The Bears then took over at their own 14, went three-and-out and never regained possession thanks to Duce Staley's 16-yard run on third-and-7 from midfield with 1:17 left.
"I really thought we'd get another possession," Bears coach Dick Jauron said. "That was disappointing at the end that we didn't stop them, but overall, the second half was the way we'd like to play football."
Considering that Matthews is likely to miss at least the next two weeks and that the Bears play the next three games and five of their next six on the road, regrouping quickly is of utmost importance. Jauron was quick to give his rookie a vote of confidence.
"We know who he is and what he's going to be," he said. "(Mistakes) are going to occur, and we're going to live with them. He's an awfully tough competitor. I admire that in him, and I'm glad we have him."
McNown tempered his disappointment with the necessary optimism.
"It hurts a lot when you don't win games," he said. "I don't want to be in that position, and I don't think we will be very often. I think we learned some valuable lessons today and we're going to come back.
"I don't think a lot of people thought we'd be where we are right now at 3-3, and we're in position to go out and still win a lot of games this season."