For the second straight week it truly mattered not whether the Bears won or lost their exhibition game. It mattered only how they played--and this time they played it well where it mattered most.
The final score was Bears 19, St. Louis Rams 17 in front of a crowd of 65,311. But the Bears' offensive and defensive starters, for the most part playing just the first two series of Friday's night game in the Edward Jones Dome, jumped out to a 10-0 lead on the Rams' starters.
The Bears won it on Ken Mastrole's 16-yard touchdown pass to Kenny Christian with 55 seconds left in the game.
St. Louis, playing without star running back Marshall Faulk, answered the Bears' first score with a touchdown on a pass from Kurt Warner. But the edge for the evening belonged to the Bears, a marked turnaround from the 27-3 debacle last Saturday night against the Denver Broncos.
The Bears' first-team offense scored both times it had the ball while the defense was holding the Rams' NFL-leading offense of last season to minus-9 yards on its first six plays. The Bears' starting offense, with quarterback Jim Miller using tailback Anthony Thomas and wide receiver Dez White exclusively, promptly shredded a defense that ranked No. 3 in the NFL last season in yards allowed and sixth in scoring defense.
Taking over after a St. Louis punt at the Chicago 34, Miller and offensive coordinator John Shoop opened up the throttle and rocked the Rams back on their heels. Miller threw 21 yards to White on the Bears' second play from scrimmage, moving the ball to the St. Louis 45 and marking the first time in 15 possessions this exhibition season the Bears had moved the ball into an opponent's half of the field.
On second-and-6 from the St. Louis 26, Miller and Thomas sold a play-action fake that brought the Rams' secondary up in run support as Miller bootlegged right behind tackle James "Big Cat" Williams. White was left alone on the left side of the end zone and Miller made the throw for the Bears' first touchdown of the exhibition season.
The starting defense shut down the Rams' offense on a second consecutive three-and-out series with cornerback Jerry Azumah breaking up passes to Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt on consecutive plays. Rosevelt Colvin, with Phillip Daniels coming free up the middle on a looping rush, then sacked Warner to force a fumble. The Rams recovered but were forced to punt.
From the Chicago 36, Miller cranked the offense up immediately, completing his first-down pass to Marty Booker who gained 9 yards on a slant. Thomas then gained 12 and 4 yards as the line drove the Rams off the ball and set up an 11-yard completion to White for a first down at the St. Louis 28.
But on third down, Miller juggled the ball momentarily while avoiding the Rams' rush and elected to take a 1-yard sack. Paul Edinger converted his second straight field goal of the preseason, a 42-yard kick to put the Bears up 10-0 with 10 minutes gone in the first quarter.
The Rams stayed with most of their starters on offense and answered with an eight-play, 71-yard drive starting at their 29-yard line. Warner and the Rams chose not to settle for a field goal at fourth-and-1 at the Chicago 4-yard line and Warner, with the Bears gearing to stop a run, found tight end Ernie Conwell in the back of the end zone
Quarterback Chris Chandler came on with the No. 2 offense, which picked up where it left off against the Broncos. Chandler's first pass was deflected by defensive end Grant Wistrom, a Leon Johnson run was stuffed and Chandler was sacked when defensive tackle Brian Young beat rookie guard Terrence Metcalf.
Jeff Wilkins tied the game at 10-10 with a 36-yard field goal with 52 seconds left before halftime.
After the Bears' starters left the game, the offense deteriorated: two first downs and 58 yards in the second quarter, then zero first downs and 24 net yards in the third. The Rams took the lead in the fourth quarter with a touchdown pass from Bulger to tight end Brandon Manumaleuna.
Nate Jacquet's 97-yard return of the ensuing kickoff set the Bears up at the St. Louis 8. After a false start penalty and a dropped pass by Jamin Elliott in the end zone, Jon Hilbert kicked his first field goal of the exhibition, a 33-yarder.