With a day to reflect on their thrilling opening dayvictory, Bears players and coaches sounded a lot likethey did after last season's unlikely string ofstunners. It's not luck, they insist. Good teams putthemselves in positions to win.
The Bears certainly did that in Sunday's 27-23 winover Minnesota. After being outplayed for a half, afew tweaks were made, but essentially the Bears stuckto what they do best pound the ball and eventually wore down the Vikings.
Coach Dick Jauron, while happy about starting theseason on a positive note, hardly was surprised hisguys were able to rally under the swelteringconditions in Champaign. After going 13-3 last season,this a confident group.
"They have a lot of belief in themselves," Jauronsaid. "They have a lot of faith in each other. Theydon't want to let their teammates down. I think that'sa big part of it."
Faith, confidence, and aligned stars aside, what it really comes down to is talent.
"We have some really good athletes on the footballfield," Jauron said. "There's no denying that. Thefact of the matter is, the better your athletes, thebetter your team. Guys that have that kind of talentusually have a lot of confidence in their talent."
It's not to say Jauron doesn't have confidence in hisbackups, but when three starters are carted off thefield in the first half, two on the same cart, it's not a pretty sight.
The severity of the two serious injuries to cornerR.W. McQuarters, who hurt his left knee, and defensiveend Phillip Daniels, who twisted his right ankle,won't be known until test results come back. The thirdplayer, safety Mike Brown, received two IVs andreturned to the game to intercept a Daunte Culpepperpass to set up the winning touchdown.
"That's not a good feeling when you see that cartgoing into the lockerroom with those three guys on itand the team's on the field playing football," Jauronsaid. "But the guys that stepped in, they did whatthey had to do."
With their most experienced corner in McQuarters out,the Bears turned to the tandem of Reggie Austin andTodd McMillon, a diminutive pair of cornerbacks andgood friends, who together spent the off-seasonbulking up in Atlanta under the guidance of strengthguru Chip Smith. It wouldn't surprise anyone if theywere hanging from chin-up bars trying to get taller,too.
"(The coaches) were telling me that I needed to getstronger and try and get a little bit bigger," saidthe 5-foot-9-inch, 185-pound Austin. "I can't doanything about my height, so the only thing I can dois try and get a little bit bigger and stronger."
Austin, who played one down last year after spendingall of 2000, his rookie season, on injured reserve,used all of his height and considerable speed to makea diving interception on the Bears' goal line.
"For a guy who doesn't usually play as much as he did,he got that call, he came in, he knocked a home run."
Jauron admitted that had Austin not committed himselfto getting stronger during the off-season, the formerfourth-round pick wouldn't have made the team thisyear.
Austin, the self-proclaimed fastest man on the team,is used to being second-guessed.
"That's happened all my life," Austin said. "Peoplesaying I'm too small, too small to go to college, theysaid I was too small to start in college, they said Iwas too small to go to the NFL and now they say I'mtoo small to start in this league."
All backups are told they're just a knee or an ankleinjury away from playing. Depending on McQuarters'status, Austin could be starting in the NFL next weekagainst Atlanta.
Depth of the defensive secondary was a question thatwas answered quickly with McQuarters and Brown out.Another question was second-year man Bernard Robertsonat left tackle.
Robertson was called for holding on one play, butperformed admirably against a well-prepared Minnesotateam.
"Everybody's just giving a big exhale that I didn't goout there and screw up," Robertson said. "It's justlike taking a bet and winning, everyone's justrelieved.
"I knew I could go out there and play ball and so didthe staff and team, but I had to go out there andprove to everybody else that's not in thisorganization."
While clearly talking about the media, Robertson alsowas alluding to the Vikings.
"I don't know if they were trying to take advantageof just me," Robertson said. "They were trying to takeadvantage of the entire offensive line. They brought alot of stuff, you know, twists, blitzes. And they tookadvantage of the heat knowing that we like to double-team guys and rush the ball a lot. They did whateverthey could to keep from being still and allowing us toget those blocks.
"The second we started figuring out what they weredoing, we put it together, broke it down and did whatwe do best: pound on guys."
Jauron praised Robertson's pass protection, but hintedhe still needs some work at run blocking. Whileallowing just one sack, Anthony Thomas rushed for minus-2yards in the first half and the problems can beattributed to lack of holes in the line.
"I would attribute their running the ball to the factthat they blocked us," Jauron said. "They did a nicejob. They executed and we didn't at times. The creditgoes to them."
The loss of Daniels, an end who plays the run well,didn't help.