DETROIT—Aside from Paul Edinger and R.W. McQuarters assuring themselves a standing reservation in any of St. Louis' finest restaurants and at least one kitchen table, it's impossible to determine immediately the effect of the Bears' season-ending victory over Detroit.
Taken at face value, the Bears' 23-20 win Sunday lifted their record to 5-11 and their mood from somber to something a little more suitable for the holiday season.
"You can't buy something like today," tackle Mike Wells said. "This is what it's all about. People can say what they want, but this is why you start playing when you're a young kid and that's why we keep doing it today.
"Even though it was a bad season, this is the taste we're going to have in our mouth and this is good."
Certainly McQuarter, with his 61-yard interception return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter and his fumble-causing sack with 49 seconds left, and Edinger, with his winning 54-yard field goal with two seconds remaining, won friends across state lines. They and the Bears knocked the Lions out of the playoffs and secured a wild-card spot for the defending Super Bowl champion St. Louis Rams.
"The whole Chicago Bears organization can come to my house for dinner tonight," exulted St. Louis defensive tackle D'Marco Farr after the Rams' victory over New Orleans. "I'll put Edinger, the kicker, at the head of the table."
Said Edinger, who also kicked 50- and 37-yarders: "When I went out there I knew I was going to make it. Knowing that it's 10 degrees outside and we're indoors and on Christmas Eve ... you couldn't ask for better conditions as a kicker."
St. Louis coach Mike Martz evidently was so confident of the Bears operating under quarterback Shane Matthews that he had told his team, "If you win you're in, because the Bears are going to take care of business in Detroit."
It was a similar feeling of faith in Matthews that sustained the Bears through an otherwise tumultuous week in which a number of players were dismayed at Cade McNown's level of readiness. .
But they had no choice but to take direction from both--Matthews, until a broken right thumb forced him out shortly before halftime, and McNown the rest of the way.
And other than a near-interception thrown by McNown with 12 seconds left that could have cost the Bears the game, they go into the off-season feeling at least hopeful about their soon-to-be-third-year quarterback.
"I'm happy for him," said tackle James Williams, one of McNown's most candid critics. "Given all the things [that happened last week], he was able to get in and do what he had to do to help us win. That's a sign of growing up. We'll see."
Specifically, McNown led the team on an eight-play, 90-yard drive that culminated in a 27-yard touchdown strike to Marty Booker late in the third quarter.
That gave the Bears their first lead at 13-10.
And two series after running back James Allen's fumble at the Bears' 11-yard line resulted in the Lions' tying 26-yard field goal, McNown put the Bears into position for Edinger's game-winning field goal with a 10-yard completion to Allen on fourth-and-one.
The appreciative Bears defense, which has been on something of a roll the second half of the season, , took notice.
"Our offense ran the ball well," said defensive end Bryan Robinson, who had two sacks and a pass deflection. "And even when Cade got in, [Bears coaches] didn't ask him to try to win the game until the end when he had to and he did a [heck of] a job."
McNown credited the line's "gaping holes" and pledged that he would work "incredibly hard" this off-season.
Bears coach Dick Jauron, a raspy voice making him sound aptly beleaguered after a trying year, said relief is not the way he would describe his emotions.