Deep down, coach Dave Wannstedt had to know that a rookie quarterback--prophetic name or not--would not be the answer to his problems. And sure enough, Moses Moreno, despite a flash or two, played like a rookie Sunday in the Bears' 31-17 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
No, the full force of Wannstedt's agony had to be in watching his team play football the last four minutes of the first half. For this is when the Bears defined themselves, in total team splendor, as neither unlucky nor inconsistent nor any other of the semi-flattering labels conveniently tossed around this season.
With a 14-7 lead, the Bears displayed in succinct and convincing fashion why they are 3-9. And why things are not likely to get any better.
The sequence of events--coming in a blur of penalty flags, missed tackles, blown blocks, bad passes and finally, just plain dumb football--left the Bears in the proverbial dust on a warm, damp afternoon at Soldier Field, again sending the assembled home with a scowl.
In order, a blown Bears block allowed Tampa's Jeff Gooch to tip a punt by Mike Horan, which was recovered by Ronde Barber, who then pranced 23 yards past several stricken and surprised-looking Bears for the touchdown.
A wild snap on the point-after kick followed, but was nullified by a Bears offside penalty.
After the ensuing kickoff, a holding call on the Bears followed by a false start pushed them back to a first-and-16 on their 3-yard-line. Two consecutive pass attempts of 40 and 45 yards by Moreno to Bobby Engram were incomplete, and a poor punt by Horan into the wind left the Bucs on the Bears' 33.
The Bucs fumbled on their next possession, but with 40 seconds left in the half, the Bears went three-and-out in a total of 15 seconds and left the Bucs with one more, seemingly remote, chance to score.
Eight seconds were on the clock when Bucs quarterback Trent Dilfer let the ball fly into the middle of a mob at the Bears' 4, and as is supposed to happen in such situations, the pass was incomplete as time expired. Except that demoted end John Thierry, part of the Bears' standard three-man rush, inexplicably jumped offside, giving the Bucs another chance.
Thierry explained later that he was simply "trying to make something happen." That he did.
This time Dilfer easily escaped the pocket, and as he would all day, had plenty of time to wind up. And this time, the ball found depth-chart bottom-feeder Brice Hunter, who had gone out of bounds and back in again to cradle the touchdown that put the Bucs ahead 21-14.
Hunter was eligible, officials said, because the ball was first touched by someone else. He was available because Bears nickel back Marlon Forbes admitted he disregarded Hunter.
"I saw him reach for the ball, but I didn't think it was a legal catch if he goes out of bounds," Forbes said. "Some people say if the ball gets tipped, you can come back in. That's still news to me, either way.
"It's a Hail Mary, it's a prayer is what it is, and sometimes prayers get answered. They call it a Hail Mary for specifically that reason. Nine times out of 10 they don't get that. That's Bears football '98 is what it really amounts to."
No, no, no. That's bad football. Bad, bad football. OK, maybe it is Bears football.
"Yeah, it was a horrible play, but it would be worse if we had stopped playing and our guys didn't quit," said safety Marty Carter.
No, they didn't quit. They continued to play bad football, turning the ball over on a Robert Chancey fumble early in the third quarter--their league-high 19th of the season--which led directly to another Bucs touchdown on a 14-yard pass from Dilfer to Reidel Anthony.
At this point, two fumbles, a tipped punt and a Hail Mary accounted for the four Tampa Bay scores. The 5-7 Bucs rounded out the day with a mundane 28-yard field goal by Michael Husted to end a drive that began at the Bears' 30 following a 31-yard punt by Horan and a 17-yard return by Jacquez Green.
Out of Tampa Bay's 15 offensive drives, seven started in Bears territory. The Bucs' average starting field position was at their own 46.
buccaneers 31, bears 17