The Bears haven't been the same since they were pushed around in the playoffs by the Philadelphia Eagles on a cold January night at Soldier Field.
The Eagles, on the other hand, have been rolling since. They're 5-2, compared to the Bears' 2-5, and they're actually better since the last time the two teams played.
And here comes Chicagoan Donovan McNabb to Illinois' Memorial Stadium, a place where he could've--should've--spent his college career. Instead, Illinois wanted him to play running back or wide receiver. He went to Syracuse to play his position of choice and now he's one of the best quarterback's in the league.
In case this game gets ugly, you can always flip to ESPN for live coverage of the PBA's Miller High Life Open. That's bowling, folks, live from Vernon Hills, Ill. Bring it.
OK, football soon. Let's see if the Bears can surpass the Bulls' win total.
A light rain is falling in Champaign as the Ahmad Merritt fields the opening kickoff for the Bears. ... The angry e-mail is arriving in record time. The Bears haven't even run a play yet and people already are cursing John Shoop. ... Jim Miller, starting for the first time in two weeks, dumps a low pass that Anthony Thomas can't handle. ... Thomas makes a nice run, breaking outside but short of the first down. ... A third-down pass to Booker falls short. Stat of the day: The Bears have punted on every opening series this year, this one included.
McNabb takes a two-step drop and fires a short, sideline pass to Duce Staley, who picks up four yards. ... Staley is stuffed for a loss on second down, bringing up third and 7. ... McNabb hits former Packer Antonio Freeman for the first down. Rosevelt Colvin was in there but couldn't get to McNabb in time. ... Staley dives for a couple. ... James Thrash takes a reverse and a lead block from McNabb and picks up the Eagles' second first down of the drive. ... Side note: Cornerback R.W. McQuarters started today. His partner, Jerry Azumah, is being checked on the sideline. ... McNabb is sacked for a big loss by Phillip Daniels and Brian Urlacher, bringing up third and 17. ... McNabb scrambles, avoids a blitzing Mike Green and unloads out of bounds. He's called for passing beyond the line of scrimmage and the Eagles will punt. Oh, my! It's Sean Landeta! He's like the Jesse Orosco of punters. Landeta has to be the only active player who played during the Bears' Super Bowl season. Outside of Steve Fuller, of course. As we all now, he whiffed on a punt in Soldier Field's north end zone in the '85 playoffs.
OK, back to reality. The Bears start at their own 22. Leon Johnson runs twice and picks up the first down. The Bears are going with the no-huddle offense. ... Miller hits Booker twice underneath but he's short of the first. Third and short. Azumah has gone to the locker room. ... Johnson is stuffed and the Bears will punt again.
Big Keith Traylor flops across the line onto McNabb, but McNabb still manages to loft a sweet pass to Todd Pinkston over Todd McMillon, who's in for Azumah. Azumah has a bruised left leg. ... Rookie Brian Westbrook runs for a few. ... On third down the Bears sack McNabb but Daniels is called for a 15-yard face mask penalty. The penalty gives the Eagles a first down and moves them past midfield. ... McNabb throws an incompletion and then has a pass tipped by rookie Alex Brown. Hey, the Bears' defense has shown up. Third and 10 and the crowd gets into it. ... McNabb rifles one over the middle for Freeman but he can't hang on. Here's our guy Landeta ... and he pulls something ripe for the NFL Films follies package. He drops the snap and then takes a blind kick at the ball as it rolls on the ground. You can't do that. First down Bears at their own 49. I'm not going to say I called that by Landeta, but...
Stanley Pritchett catches a short pass out of the backfield and picks up about five. ... Johnson runs outside and is tackled short of the first down. ... Third and 2 and the Eagles jumped in the neutral zone, giving the Bears a first. ... Miller lofts one behind Fred Baxter, but the rookie Marc Colombo is called for a personal foul. Colombo threw to the ground Hugh Douglas, the guy who knocked Jim Miller out of that playoff game, and then speared him. ... Miller throws incomplete, bringing up third and 25. ... Oh, chicanery by the Bears. Booker lines up at quarterback and lofts a pass about 60 yards across the field to Marcus Robinson, who's doubled covered. Robinson leaps and nearly makes the catch.
OK, clearly Shoop has changed some things on offense. But is a no-huddle offense and a receiver throwing passes what's needed?
From their own 28, the Eagles run Staley right for a couple. ... McNabb drills one up the middle to Thrash and Mike Green is called for illegal contact. Another penalty. ... Thrash takes an end around but is brought down by Azumah, who obviously is back in the game. ... McNabb is pressured again, throws incomplete and another flag. The ref explains "there is no flag for holding on the play." Huh? Anyway, third and 6 and McNabb is sacked but now Reggie Austin is called for holding. Penalties are killing the Bears' defense. ... Westbrook runs right and is dragged down by Urlacher in the backfield. And, yes, another flag. Illegal shift on the Eagles this time. The Bears decline and it's second and 14. ... Westbrook runs for not much as the first quarter ends.
McNabb throws incomplete and again our guy Landeta trots on. He makes solid contact this time and Johnson fields it at the 17 and goes nowhere.
Thomas is back and runs up the middle for a first down. Big hole, nice run. ... After a short run by Thomas, Miller lofts one to Pritchett who takes a hard hit but holds on for the first. ... Thomas cuts the corner for five and the Eagles are called for taunting, which tacks 15 yards onto the run. Do you think we could have a few more penalties called this season? ... Thomas hits the corner again, but is stuffed. ... Miller hits Thomas on a short dump and Thomas is making people miss, stutter steps and is brought down at the 10. Of course, the Bears are called for holding, so scratch all that. ... So it's second and 1 and Thomas dives for a first at the 21. ... Pritchett catches a pass out of the backfield and picks up four yards. ... Thomas takes a pitch and runs left. He's about two yards short. ... Third and 2 and Merritt drops a screen pass. Edinger squeezes a 30-yard field goal inside the left upright. That was close.
Bears 3, Eagles 0
The Eagles take over at their own 24 as Staley dives for a couple. And, hey, another personal foul penalty on the Bears. Love the penalties. ... Second and 7 at the 46, McNabb takes off up the middle and is brought down from behind by Green after a nine-yard pickup. ... Staley runs for nine and then picks up the first with a short plunge. ... Staley tries to turn the corner but Urlacher drags him down. ... On second and 5, McNabb scrambles for a few and--oh, boy--the Bears are called for illegal contact. First down Eagles at the 15. ... Big Ol' Ernest Grant stuffs Staley on first down. No penalty on the Bears. ... McNabb guns one to Thrash, covered by McQuarters. No flag. Wait. Late flag. Interference on McQuarters. Absolutely horrible call. It's got to be said. Dick Stockton is letting the refs have it. ... So first and goal on the 5 and McNabb throws it out of the end zone. He keeps it himself on second down and runs for a touchdown.
Eagles 7, Bears 3
The Bears defense has been called for six penalties, all of them in crucial spots.
Thomas runs three times and the Bears convert their first third down. ... Miller burns a timeout as the play clock was running down. ... Booker runs a hitch route and makes a nice gain after the catch to the 37 for a first down. ... Miller then hits Dez White for a 24-yard gain at the two-minute warning. Thomas made a great block to pick up the blitzing corner. ... Thomas runs up the middle inside the 10. ... On second and 3, Thomas runs left and makes it to the corner of the end zone.
Bears 10, Eagles 7
Thomas carried the ball five of seven plays on that scoring drive. The Bears are sticking to what they do best: run the ball and defense. The only difference this week is that it's working.
With just over a minute remaining in the half, the Eagles pick up a quick first down. ... McNabb throws incomplete but then hits Antonio Freeman for a 24-yard gain. Timeout Eagles. ... McNabb is pressured, lofts one up that is picked off by Mike Brown. Bryan Robinson is flagged for a personal foul after the pick.
The Bears take over at their own 23 with 38 seconds left. ... Merritt catches a quick pass but fails to get out of bounds and the Bears call timeout. ... Miller to Merritt for 30 yards and the Bears call their last timeout. ... The Bears pick up a few but can't stop the clock. Miller hustles to the line and spikes the ball, setting up a 53-yard attempt for Edinger with 4 seconds left. The big guys on both teams are shoving each other around. ... Edinger's kick hits the crossbar and bounces good. That's the second time that's happened this year.
Bears 13, Eagles 7
The Eagles start the half by running the ball. Once up the middle and then to the left, leaving third and 6. ... McNabb then lofts one up between two defensive backs and Freeman makes the grab. A gain of 20. ... Staley runs right into Urlacher on second down and McNabb throws to Thrash short of the first-down marker on third. ... Third and 3 ball on the 20. ... Robinson nearly gets to McNabb in the backfield but McNabb breaks lose and picks up 13 down the sideline. First and goal at the 6. ... McNabb throws incomplete and Dorsey Levens is dropped in the backfield. ... Urlacher leads the blitz and McNabb throws incomplete. ... David Akers boots a short field goal and the Bears escaped with just that.
Bears 13, Eagles 10
Thomas runs twice and Miller is sacked on a big third and long in their own territory. ... Brad Maynard will punt from the goal line. Brian Mitchell returns the ball inside the 40.
McNabb is sacked but then hits Levens for 11 yards on second and long. ... McNabb finds Freeman right at the first-down marker. ... Staley runs for a few on first down. ... McNabb is chased by Urlacher on second down but McNabb is able to throw it away. ... McNabb scrambles and dodges a few Bears but comes up short of the first down. Akers kicks a field goal to tie the game.
Bears 13, Eagles 13
From the 23 Johnson runs for no gain. Make that two yards. ... Miller throws low to Merritt and it's third and long very quickly. ... "Big Cat" Williams is whistled for false start and now it's third and really long. ... Miller steps up in the pocket and then floats an ugly pass that's picked off by the Eagles. Linebacker Shawn Barber is called for roughing the passer and the Bears get a first down. Questionable call there.
It's safe to say the refs are getting a bit touchy on the taunting and roughing the passer penalties this year.
So the Bears get a reprieve and do nothing with it. Two runs and an interception equal one punt.
The Eagles start at their own 40 and immediately throw deep but McNabb's ball is too long. ... McNabb overthrows Thrash on second down. McNabb hasn't been as sharp as we've seen him. ... OK, just as I write this, McNabb shakes and out-runs Mike Green and throws on the run to Freeman close to a first down. It's not close enough and the Eagles will go for it on fourth and inches. ... McNabb keeps it himself for the first. ... Staley runs twice and both times Alex Brown makes the tackle. ... Mike Caldwell cuts down McNabb on third and 4 and the Eagles will punt when the fourth quarter starts.
After the touchback, the Bears start at their own 20. Miller throws to a double-covered John Davis and the ball fals incomplete. ... Dez White fumbles an end around pitch and just like that the Eagles take over in the red zone.
Staley runs for a couple and then Thrash takes an end around and is knocked out of bounds at the 9. ... On third and 1 McNabb overthrows Cecil Martin (Evanston guy) and the Eagles will kick a field goal. A minor moral victory for the Bears there.
Eagles 16, Bears 13
Never one to deviate from the script the Bears run Thomas twice and face third down. ... Miller is buried by Hugh Douglas and Maynard will punt.
It's safe to say, Miller and Douglas won't be taking in the new Eminem movie together.
The Eagles take over at midfield and McNabb hits Chad Lewis for nine yards. ... Staley runs for a first down. ... Staley runs once and thrash catches a pass and is short. The Eagles go for it on fourth and 1 and Daniels and Bobby Howard stuff Staley for a loss.
Thomas runs left on first down but is dropped. Some boos are heard. ... Thomas makes up for that run by catching a short pass and sprinting for a first. ... Booker is wide open but Miller throws behind him and Booker can't hang on. ... Miller greatly overthrows Davis on second down and another third and long for the Bears. ... Miller throws to no one in particular and the Bears will punt again.
The Eagles start at their own 30 and McNabb throws a quick pass to Thrash. McQuarters is called for pass interference and Dick Jauron is arguing. ... McNabb hits Todd Pinkston in stride for a big gain. Oh, yeah, Azumah was called for interference on that one, too. But it doesn't matter. ... Staley runs for a couple inside the Bears' 15. ... McNabb throws short to Thrash and again to Mitchell on third down, but Mitchell slips and falls short of the first down. The Bears escape, allowing Philly only a field goal--again.
Eagles 19, Bears 13
Miller hits Davis, who spins for an eight-yard gain. ... Thomas makes a steady run up the middle for the first as the clock passes the 2:30 point. ... Pritchett catches a short pass, cuts up field and carries two Eagles across midfield. Another first down as the two-minute warning stops the clock and sends us to truck and beer commercials. ... A screen pass to Thomas picks up 13. All of a sudden the Bears are moving the ball. They need a touchdown. ... Booker catches a short pass over the middle but is dragged down from behind after a gain of 6. The Bears call their first timeout. ... Just over a minute to go, Miller hits Dez White, but he's short. Another timeout on third down. The Bears need a yard for a first and 25 for a touchdown. ... Miller overthrows Booker down the sideline. ... This is the game, folks, fourth and 1 and Johnson dives for the first. The clock is running. Miller throws for White in the end zone but White is covered by two guys. That stops the clock. ... Twenty-nine seconds remain. ... Miller tries to gun one to Davis but it's nearly picked off by the linebacker. Third down and the Bears have one timeout remaining. ... The Eagles blitz and who else but Hugh Douglas comes unblocked and sacks Miller. The Bears call timeout. It's fourth and ridiculous from about the 35. Once again, this is the game, folks. One last chance and Miller throws it out of the end zone, intended for Marcus Robinson. Game over.
Final: Eagles 19, Bears 13
The Bears were really in this one. Donovan McNabb wasn't as sharp as usual and the Bears were only a touchdown away at the end. A win over the Eagles could've turned this season around. Instead the Bears have lost six straight.