EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.—The unique smells of New Jersey seemed an appropriate dumping ground for a Bears team that stunk it up in recent losses to Philadelphia and Minnesota.
But just when they appeared ready to be heaped onto the closest discard pile, the Bears handed their fans a rose, outdueling the New York Jets 19-7 Sunday night at the Meadowlands in front of 70,020.
NFC Central, a game behind first-place Minnesota.
Decided underdogs after being outscored 72-36 the previous two games, the Bears won their first road game since Nov. 25, 1993, against Detroit.
The Bears substituted emotion and enthusiasm for the indecisiveness and inaction of weeks past. They controlled the ball (36 minutes, 25 seconds) and made the plays on defense (four sacks) to provide a whiff of optimism-at least until Sunday, when the Bears host the four-time defending AFC champion Buffalo Bills.
"There's no question that we were at the crossroads," said Wannstedt. "By that, I didn't mean that the season was going to be over. I just meant that we had to have some guys step up and we had to do something good as a team. Guys responded in a way that I would have hoped they would. I'm confident now that we can get back on track."
Steve Walsh (14 of 24 for 143 yards) started at quarterback as Erik Kramer stood on the sideline with his partially separated right shoulder. Kramer was active and available to play if Walsh got hurt.
"This was a tough stadium to win in," said Walsh. "The Jets crowd is always kind of rowdy. And we pretty much took the crowd out of it and beat a good football team."
Jets quarterback Boomer Esiason (11 of 20 for 112 yards) sprained his ankle in the third period when he was sacked by Albert Fontenot. Jack Trudeau replaced Esiason, who may be out for two weeks.
The Bears' defense, ranked last in the NFL against the rush entering Sunday's game, kept the Jets (2-2) in check in the first half.
"I know since Dave Wannstedt arrived, he has built the Bears on playing great defense," said Jets coach Pete Carroll. "And for them to go the entire ('93) season not giving up more than two touchdowns (in any one game). . . . I know they've been shocked a little bit these last couple of weeks."
The Jets took the opening drive and marched 67 yards in nine plays. Johnny Johnson ran 5 yards untouched for the touchdown that gave New York a 7-0 lead 5 minutes into the game.
"I felt pretty good," Wannstedt said. "It wasn't a panic situation. Our assistant coaches came in with a good game plan, and our players came in with an attitude. (After the touchdown) as our defense was running off the field, our offense is cheering them. It was the first time that I felt that everybody was fighting together. It was just a good feeling."
The Bears tied it 7-7 on a 2-yard dive by Lewis Tillman (96 yards on 32 carries) with 13:05 left in the second quarter. The points were the first by the Bears in the first three periods since their season-opening win over Tampa Bay. In losses to the Eagles and the Vikings, the Bears were outscored 58-0 in the first three quarters.
The Bears defense stiffened after the Jets' opening drive. Middle linebacker Dante Jones, who missed most of the Vikings game with a groin injury, returned Sunday night and was a major factor early, but later reinjured his groin.
The Bears took a 10-7 advantage just before halftime on Kevin Butler's 44-yard field goal, the Bears' first of the season.
Before the kick, the Bears lined up as if they were going for it on fourth down. Walsh attempted to draw the defense offsides before calling a timeout with the play clock running out. Next, the Bears attempted a fake field goal. As Butler lined up behind holder Chris Gardocki, the linemen, with the exception of snapper Chris Gedney, lined up several yards to the left of the football.
Gedney picked the ball up and lateraled to tailback Robert Green, who ran behind his linemen for about 4 yards. The play was nullified, however, when the officials deemed the ball had not been whistled in play. Finally, the Bears settled for Butler's three-pointer.
The Bears opened the second half with a 52-yard kickoff return by Nate Lewis. A personal foul by the Jets on the return gave the Bears the ball on the New York 22. But the Bears failed to cash in because Butler's 42-yard field-goal attempt banged off the left upright.
The Jets returned the favor when Nick Lowery's 47-yard attempt sailed wide right. Alonzo Spellman's first sack of the season on third down pushed the attempt back 9 yards.
Butler connected on his next attempt from 30 yards with 5:27 to go in the third quarter to make it 13-7. The Bears added a 2-yard touchdown run by Tillman in the fourth period. A two-point conversion pass failed.
The Jets drove to the Bears' 3 after a 90-yard run by Johnson (126 yards on 12 carries). But Trudeau's fourth-down pass into the end zone was dropped by tight end Mitchell, who cut in front of a wide-open Rob Moore.