Preseason football is seldom a definitive portent of a team's regular-season fate. The 1985 Bears, for instance, were 1-3 in the exhibitions and wound up 15-1 on the way to Super Bowl glory.
So the third straight preseason setback for the Bears, Saturday's 13-10 loss to the Los Angeles Raiders, is not necessarily reason to panic. But it was painful, because the injuries are mounting.
The Bears hobbled out of here with a long list of casualties-Trace Armstrong (strained knee), Brad Muster (pulled hamstring), Jim Morrissey (pinched nerve), Peter Tom Willis (bloody nose and mouth), Mike Singletary (sprained ankle), Stan Thomas (displaced shoulder) and rookie cornerback John Wiley (pulled hamstring).
"I just hope the injuries aren't significant," said coach Mike Ditka.
For the second straight weekend, a late field goal beat the Bears. Jeff Jaeger gave them the boot when his 40-yard kick with 1:40 remaining caromed high off the right upright and through the goalposts.
The Bears fell to 1-3, while the defending AFC West champion Raiders improved to 2-2 in front of 32,101 in the Coliseum.
Playing without star running back Neal Anderson for the second straight week, the Bears again failed to generate a scoring punch, despite one stretch of 11 straight completions by Willis. They have totaled only 33 points in four exhibitions, and that includes the touchdown Maurice Douglass gave them Saturday with an interception return.
But Ditka, who had stressed the importance of winning this game, did not sound discouraged.
"I think our performance and our alertness and our hitting reminded me of Bear football," he said. "That is what we built here 10 years ago, and that is what we are going to carry on.
"It's a season where we're going to have to scratch and claw and dig for everything we get. But that doesn't mean we can't get it.
"There were enough opportunities out there to do better. But I was proud of the way we played. The main thing we wanted to do was to play hard and tough and be aggressive. I thought we did that much better than last week.
"We made some key mistakes in the kicking game, but other than that, I am not unhappy with what I saw. I think we're moving in the right direction. I have to look at the big picture. I can't get shook up every time something goes wrong in preseason."
Mark Green (17 yards on 8 carries) started in place of Anderson, who did not accompany the team because of the murder charge facing his father in Graceville, Fla. Anderson was in Chicago Saturday to handle family matters, according to Bear officials. He missed last Sunday's 12-10 loss to Phoenix because of a bruised leg.
The Bears started impressively against the Raiders, driving 73 yards in 16 plays before settling for a 24-yard field goal by Kevin Butler with 1:26 left in the first quarter.
The drive included four conversions in five third-down situations, and they wound up 7 for 15 in that department after failing on all 12 of their third-down attempts against the Cardinals.
Jim Harbaugh completed a 16-yard pass to Wendell Davis on the drive and had a pair of 11-yard runs on third down. But three deep passes failed.
The Raiders appeared to take the lead on a 95-yard punt return by Tim Brown. But the touchdown was called back when the Raiders' Dan Land was whistled for an illegal block following Maury Buford's 53-yard punt.
The Raiders tied the game 3-3 on Jaeger's 47-yard field goal at the end of the half. It capped a 50-yard drive in 11 plays that included a 13-yard pass from Jay Schroeder to Brown on fourth down following a Bear timeout.
Why the timeout?
"It seemed like a good idea. We were just going to rush the punt," Ditka said. "On second thought, it still would have left us with only about nine seconds. So it really wasn't the greatest decision in the world. But that doesn't mean they have to get a first down and then a field goal."
After Harbaugh went 4 of 10 for 44 yards in the first half, Willis was 13 of 18 for 129 yards. He was leveled after tossing a 13-yard pass to fullback James Rouse late in the third quarter. Rookie Paul Justin replaced him for one play before the teams entered the fourth period tied 3-3.
'Willis got his mouth cut open," Ditka said. "When you've got to throw the ball, you've got to pass-protect. He got slapped around pretty good in the face. He has a swollen and cut lip that may require a couple of stitches. He'll be OK. It's a tremendous baptism under fire."
Willis came back and promptly hit tight end James Thornton with a 24-yard pass to the Raiders' 25. His streak reached 11 before he missed on a third-down toss to rookie Darren Lewis in the right flat.
On fourth down, Butler's 21-yard field goal attempt was blocked by Greg Harrell with 10:40 remaining.
"That should never happen," Ditka said. "The guy came inside one of our guys (William Perry, according to Harrell). "That can be corrected."
The Bears quickly atoned for the special-teams breakdown when Douglass intercepted a Steve Beuerlein pass intended for Mike Alexander and returned it 31 yards to give the Bears a 10-3 lead with 8:47 left.
The Raiders tied the game on a 32-yard pass from Beuerlein to a wide-open Jamie Holland in the right corner of the end zone. The score was set up with a 33-yard sprint by running back Vance Mueller.
The Bears conclude their five-game preseason schedule with a home game next Saturday night against Buffalo.
"I'm not worried about the tough test next week; I'm worried about the tough test in two weeks," said Ditka, referring to the regular-season opener against Minnesota.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun