PHILADELPHIA—Whom to blame now?
When Bears quarterback Cade McNown left Sunday's game with a separated throwing shoulder after being tackled on the sideline two minutes into the second quarter, conventional wisdom had it that an injection of Jim Miller would be just what the Bears needed.
So when Miller came in and led the Bears' offense to three field goals, just enough to fall short of the Philadelphia Eagles 13-9, it became obvious that the solution is not that simple, the despair of 1-7 in turn becoming just a little deeper.
"There's no vindication," said McNown, who was asked if he took some solace in the fact that his replacement had similar problems getting into the end zone. "I wanted him to go out there and light the place up and help this team win. That's what we're all trying to do. I don't want him to go out there and do poorly. I want him to be as efficient as possible and move this offense. I want to win. I want to be on a winning team."
Under ideal, and some might say surreal, circumstances, that would take at least eight more weeks to accomplish. As it stands, the Bears talked Sunday night about gaining momentum from an outstanding defensive effort and at least being in position to win the game on the last play--a 50-plus-yard attempt from Miller that deflected off several hands in the end zone before bouncing harmlessly into the cursed Veteran Stadiums turf.
McNown blamed the hard surface for his injury. Initial diagnosis was a second-degree separation, which trainer Tim Bream said normally has a recovery rate of anywhere from two to four weeks.
Until then, quarterbacking the Bears will be left to Miller, who had the task Sunday of leading the Bears without the benefit of a single practice repetition with the Bears' offense since training camp.
Miller was nevertheless tough on himself afterward.
"You have to get the rust off," he said after going 14-of-34 for 128 yards and an interception.
"The only positive I can draw from this is that we had some drives going and I got more comfortable as the game went on. But that's what I'm paid to do as a second-stringer. . . . It's my responsibility to put the ball in the end zone."
That did not seem to be the strategy late in the first half when, trailing 10-0 with 41 seconds left till intermission, the Bears did not choose to either stop the clock or go for the end zone.
Coach Dick Jauron said he thought they could spring "an 18- to 20-yarder" from the screen passes they were attempting. "We thought about using a timeout with one second left and taking one shot," he said, "but I decided not to do it because nothing really had gone well for us offensively in the first half. . . .
"I wanted to get into the locker room and regroup, and I figured we'd come out and win it in the second half."
The Bears were set on controlling the ball and the clock by running the ball, and they did run as well as they have all season with James Allen leading the way with 87 yards in 21 carries.
Still, it was as plain as six Louie Aguiar punts by halftime that the Bears, no matter who's quarterbacking, are going to have a tough time coming from behind.
"It's very frustrating," Jauron said. "That's why we are where we are. We're not scoring enough points. . . . God knows we're spending enough time in the red zone. . . . But we're clearly not getting it done."
Under the direction of McNown, the offense, with horrific starting field position, got only as far as the Bears' 40-yard line (on his last play). The Bears, in fact, didn't cross midfield at all until they managed to get to the Eagles' 49 with 4 minutes 43 seconds left in the third quarter and trailing 13-0. Then Aguiar launched his seventh punt.
On the next series, Eddie Kennison picked up 23 yards and a first down at the Eagles' 8 on a double reverse. But one Miller scramble and two incompletions later left the Bears only a yard closer to the end zone, and they settled for a 25-yard field goal by Paul Edinger.
An 11-play, 75-yard drive on the next series, which featured Miller completions to Kennison for 22 yards and to Marcus Robinson for 33, resulted in a 33-yard field goal by Edinger, closing the gap to 13-6.