Behind the 8 ball

Tribune staff reporter

For a while, the Bears stayed close. Then, for the eighth straight week, it didn't matter.

The Bears once again proved unable to make a play at a decisive moment to take control of a game, losing 21-16 to the St. Louis Rams on Monday night and tying a franchise record for disappointment. The eight-game losing streak matches the Bears' standard for consecutive futility set in 1978.

The Rams, squaring their record at 5-5 with their fifth straight win, sacked Bears quarterback Chris Chandler five times in first half, the most devastating occurring with 17 seconds remaining in the second quarter. Rookie left tackle Marc Colombo dislocated his left kneecap on the play and is expected to be out for the season.

Chandler was sacked a sixth time in the third quarter and was hit repeatedly despite attempts to move him out of the pocket to set up away from pressure.

"We had a tough time protecting Chris and that was a big factor in the game," coach Dick Jauron said.

"[The Rams] did a nice job of pressuring him. They brought some blitzes, not out of the ordinary for them, but they executed them well."

The Bears trailed 14-6 at halftime, were within 14-13 after three quarters, then saw the Rams score on an 8-yard pass from Marc Bulger to one-time Bear Ricky Proehl, who beat cornerback Jerry Azumah to give St. Louis a 21-13 lead.

Paul Edinger's 50-yard field goal, his third field goal of the game and 13th straight, set the final margin.

"Somebody has to come up and make a big play," cornerback R.W. McQuarters said. "When the game is on the line, somebody has to step up and get an interception to get our offense back on the field. We need to give our offense something to work with."

The Bears had a chance to make big plays on offense and defense in the closing minutes but didn't. Wide receiver Torry Holt converted a third-and-10 play with a 10-yard catch against McQuarters to sustain a late Rams possession. After the Rams were forced to punt, the Bears threw three incompletions on top of allowing a seventh sack of Chandler, going four-and-out instead of mounting a drive for a winning touchdown.

"We had chances to score regardless of the situation with our offensive line," offensive coordinator John Shoop said. "We had our chances and did not make the most of them."

The Rams scored first when Bulger, who completed 21-of-35 passes for 347 yards and two touchdowns, dropped a throw to Bruce in a seam in the Bears' zone for 22 yards and first-and-goal at the Bears 4 on the opening possession.

Tight end Ernie Conwell took a handoff circling from a wingback spot on the right side and scored from 1 yard out for a 7-0 lead.

Linebacker Rosevelt Colvin created a turnover with a sack, giving him a team-high 8½ and forcing a fumble that Alex Brown recovered at the Bears 15.

The Bears converted the takeaway into points. With a fake punt sustaining the march, the Bears moved into Rams territory before a sack of Chandler killed the drive. Edinger provided the Bears' first points with a 37-yard field goal at the start of the second quarter.

Leon Johnson returned a Rams punt 29 yards to give the Bears the ball at the St. Louis 33. Another third-down sack of Chandler forced Edinger to kick a 48-yard field goal. But the offense's failure to turn excellent field position into more than three points was a bad sign, one that has become a pattern for the 2002 Bears.

"You cannot do that against the Rams," wide receiver Marcus Robinson said.

"You need to get the ball in the end zone when you have chances like that."

On their second possession, the Bears moved the ball inside the St. Louis 20, but none of their next five plays reached the end zone. The drive ended with a 2-yard gain on a flanker screen on third-and-20.

Chandler was sacked on three of five snaps on the Bears' second possession in addition to being the target on a roughing-the-passer penalty on defensive end Leonard Little. Chandler was sacked a fourth time to stop the Bears' next possession before Edinger converted a 48-yard field goal to bring the Bears to within 7-6.

As they did last week against New England, the Bears had a chance to assert themselves on a short-yardage play but failed completely, with dire consequences. On third-and-1 at their 47 and just under two minutes remaining in the half, Johnson was unable to pick up the first down, forcing the Bears to punt to the Rams with 1:28 left.

The Rams breezed downfield on four Bulger pass plays: nine yards to wide receiver Troy Edwards, 33 yards to Bruce, 22 yards to Holt and 22 yards to Lamar Gordon for the touchdown. The drive required just 39 seconds and gave the Rams a 14-6 halftime lead.

Bulger was replaced by Kurt Warner for one series in the first half to have his left index finger X-rayed. Obviously he was OK.

The first half was marked by some curious Bears play-calling besides the unsuccessful flanker screen. On third-and-13, the Bears ran a sweep by short-yardage back Johnson and got nothing until the Rams' Little wrestled Johnson's helmet off and threw it into the Bears end zone, earning a 15-yard penalty.

With 10 seconds remaining in the half and the ball at the St. Louis 41, the Bears sent wide receiver Marty Booker in at quarterback, taking their best receiver out of play as a receiving option. Booker, who earlier was well short on a pass attempt on an end around, just heaved the ball upfield as he was swarmed by Rams.

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