Lock-step monsters

Tribune staff reporter

Walking out of Soldier Field Sunday with his team firmly behind him and the certain and continued scrutiny of the Chicago sporting public before him, Dave Wannstedt had to know that at the very least, he has accomplished one thing.

The Bears might be the proudest 0-7 football team in history.

Surely they are the most resilient. For in defeat--this time a galling 24-23 decision to the Green Bay Packers to match their 1969 counterparts' worst start in franchise history--the Bears maintain a stubbornness that draws them ever closer and a spring in their step that most 3-4 teams would kill for.

If this wasn't a moral victory, it was a killer imitation.

The entertaining and generally well-played game turned as much on a Wannstedt decision as it did on the Bears' failure to convert a two-point conversion with 1 minute 54 seconds left in regulation after a 22-yard touchdown pass from Erik Kramer to Chris Penn.

With his team down by one point, Kramer missed Raymont Harris in the flat, a play that probably would not have succeeded anyway with three Packers bearing down on Harris. But there was nary a whiff of second-guessing by Bears players afterward. Indeed, there was a renewed faith more consistent with a revival meeting.

"I'm really excited because I just see something in my team that I have not seen the previous six weeks," Harris said after rushing for 101 yards and a touchdown.

"When you're out there on the field going through the battle and the war, to know that everyone feels the same way and is on the same page, it's exhilarating. And if that sounds like a (moral victory), then that's what I'm feeling because I'm really excited about what we can do against Miami (in their next game Oct. 26)."

Wannstedt had three particularly critical decisions to make Sunday and came away 1 for 3.

He set the tone on the first possession of the third quarter when he elected to go for it on fourth and 1 from the Bears' 37-yard line--a move that paid off initially with a first down on a Kramer keeper and eventually in a touchdown on a 3-yard quarterback draw. It gave the Bears a 17-14 lead.

But a sneak by Kramer on fourth down at the Packers' 1 early in the fourth quarter was unsuccessful, leaving Green Bay with a 21-17 lead as well as the general feeling that, again, this was not the Bears' day.

"You've got to do that," Wannstedt said afterward, ticking off his reasoning in each situation and giving the same answer for each.

He was just as resolute in his explanation of the two-point attempt after an impressive six-play, 67-yard drive, a call likely to stay with Bears fans long after the Packers stop celebrating their eighth straight victory over their oldest rivals.

"We talked about going for the win and we were down there in that position and it was a play our entire football team was comfortable with," Wannstedt said. "There was no decision. It was something we had worked on and felt good about since the beginning of training camp. It wasn't that they stopped us on the play; we just didn't execute it.

"Would I do it again? Definitely. We wanted to win the game, not give them a chance to come back in the 2-minute drill with Brett Favre and his group. It was a no-brainer."

Well, there may have been a few things to consider. For starters, the Packers had gained just 92 yards in the second half. They had not scored but for a 37-yard field goal after an interception of a Kramer pass that gave them the ball on the Bears' 27. And they were missing their best back (Dorsey Levens), their best receiver (Robert Brooks) and one of their best offensive linemen (Aaron Taylor), all sidelined by injury earlier in the game.

Wannstedt was facing a situation that gave the Bears less than a 50 percent chance of succeeding versus tying the game and trusting his defense to force overtime. Either way, the Packers could have won with a field goal.

But Wannstedt, while acknowledging that the Bears' 0-6 circumstances made it more tempting, maintained that "going for the win" was foremost in his mind.

"We wanted to do something from a psychological standpoint for our football team," he said.

And even the Bears' defensive players, while expressing confidence that they would have stopped the Packers, were with the program.

"Go for broke," linebacker Bryan Cox said. "We wanted to go into the bye week on a positive note and to me, it's still positive because we had the confidence to go for it. It was an outstanding play drawn up. We just had to execute."

Said tackle Jim Flanigan: "We've had trouble with the 2-minute drill, so I think it was a good call. I'm glad we went down fighting and took a risk."

Kramer, who threw for 232 yards on 22 of 35 passing with a touchdown and two interceptions in his first start in the last three games, said he was glad he didn't have to make the decision.

"But I liked the aggressive nature of going for it," he said.

Keith Jennings was incredulous.

"I would have hated to go to overtime and then somehow mess up and lose," he said. "We're 0-6. Who wouldn't have gone for two? We were happy. That's Dave showing confidence in us, saying, `Hey, you guys worked your butt off, scored a touchdown. Now I'm going to let you win.' "

It sounded like a vote for guts and restored pride.

"I was so excited that my coach made that call and that decision because in the past, some things could be seen as our team being conservative," Harris said.

The offense, with much improved line play, was buoyed by the return of Kramer and receiver Curtis Conway, playing in his first regular-season game after recovering from a broken collarbone. It was enough to somehow keep the Bears going when there appeared to be a handful of dwindling reasons to do so.

"It's bittersweet," Kramer said of the outcome. "It's probably as bad as I've felt after a loss. But on the other hand, I guess I would have felt worse if we came out and didn't play well, too.

"At least I think we showed we should have confidence as an offense, and the defense should have confidence in us because we're going to score points."

At 0-7, that's something, anyway.

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