After losing eight of their last nine games in 1992 and their first three preseason contests, a negative pattern had been forming.
They did it in a big way, pasting the Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys 23-21 on Kevin Butler's 53-yard field goal as time ran out. It was Butler's third field goal of the game.
They did it in a most peculiar way, too. Butler's first attempt on third down went awry and holder Chris Gardocki threw a wild, incomplete pass. Butler then lined up again and drilled it through the uprights.
His heroics were necessary because of a 3-yard touchdown pass from J.C. Garrett to Tyrone Williams with a minute to play that put the Cowboys up 21-20.
The Bears had led 20-14, fueled by rookie running back Bob Christian's two touchdowns, including the fourth-quarter score that gave the Bears their first lead.
With 14 minutes seconds left in the game, Christian, the former Northwestern fullback, took a swing pass from quarterback Peter Tom Willis and rambled into the end zone to culminate a 60-yard drive. It made the score 17-14, Bears.
Butler added a 46-yard field goal, his second of the game, with 11:06 left to increase the Bears' lead to 20-14.
The Bears were trying to avoid their first winless preseason since 1978.
"You always want to end the preseason on a good note and go into the regular season feeling good about what you are doine," receiver Tom Waddle said.
"Everytime you go into a game you want to win," said quarterback Jim Harbaugh, who completed 10 of 18 passes for 75 yards with one interception in the first half. "The other thing you want to do is execute on both sides of the ball and on special teams. You try not to get anybody hurt. If you do that, then you come out with a good, solid game. We haven't really played flawless."
The Bears trailed 14-10 at the end of the first half even though the Cowboys dominated the offensive statistics, picking up 242 yards to the Bears' 88.
Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman, who had back surgery during the summer, showed no effects in the first half. In the first quarter, Aikman connected on 7 of 10 passes for 104 yards and one touchdown. By halftime, he had hit on 14 of 18 passes for 163 yards.
In the first half, Aikman hooked up with Michael Irvin on five passes for 104 yards and hit Alvin Harper with key throws while running back Derrick Lassic kept the Bears off balance by running 43 yards on 12 carries.
The Cowboys cruised to a 7-0 lead on their first drive. Aikman passed 41 yards to Irvin over the outstretched arms of cornerback Donnell Woolford. The drive covered 85 yards in just eight plays and took 3:45.
The Bears and Cowboys exchanged turnovers midway through the first quarter. Dallas running back Derrick Gainer fumbled at the end of a 12-yard run and Bears safety Shaun Gayle picked it up and ran to the Cowboys' 27.
But Harbaugh's pass off the hands of fullback Craig Heyward was intercepted by linebacker Robert Jones on the next play.
The Cowboys increased their lead to 14-0 when Lassic darted into the end zone from a yard out at the end of a 13-play, 80-yard drive.
The Bears cut the Cowboys' lead to 14-7 when rookie cornerback Keshon Johnson blocked a John Jett punt. Christian picked the ball up and ran 10 yards into the end zone for a touchdown with 9:54 left in the second quarter.
Butler booted a 32-yard field goal at the end of the first half to cut it to 14-10.
Aikman called the back ailment "a strange string of occurrences."
"When I hurt the back, I knew something was wrong," Aikman said. "I just didn't know to what extent. I went a month with the belief that it was just muscular."
Aikman said that when magnetic resonance imaging showed he had a herniated disc, he was "as shocked as anybody."
"After I went out to Los Angeles and decided to have the surgery a couple of days later, it was frightening," Aikman said, "because I wasn't sure how long I was going to be out, how my body was going to respond to the surgery and what the lingering effects were going to be.
"I don't feel any restrictions from the surgery. I feel I am able to move like I was able to move prior to the surgery. And I haven't been limited on any of my throws."
Coach Dave Wannstedt had been was the Cowboys' defensive coordinator the past four years. Now his job is to reestablish the Bears' winning image.
"I have still got the sweat and blood and tears and everything that goes into what we built in Dallas," Wannstedt said. "That is there the rest of your life. But we have got to move the ball and we have to play defense."
Waddle played despite a lingering hamstring injury and caught a 14-yard pass in the first half.
"I am getting there," Waddle said. "It is a slow process. I am just trying to stay on top of it and try to get it healed pretty quickly. "
Each NFL team must trim its roster to 47 players by Monday.
"With certain guys, we are expecting them to make improvement," Wannstedt said. "There are other guys where we are still trying to make an evaluation of whether they are going to make the team or not."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun