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James, Manning carve up Bears

Tribune staff reporter

Back and forth, they bickered loudly.

A man in a No. 54 Brian Urlacher jersey leaned over the railing behind the Bears sideline to insult players about their wives, girlfriends and, most of all, their play.

Injured safety Mike Brown gave it right back, cursing him as at least one Bear waved to dare the guy to come onto the field.

By the time the Indianapolis Colts had finished humbling the Bears 41-10 Sunday, Soldier Field security personnel had escorted the man from his seat.

"If he's got such a problem with us out there playing, he ought to get out there and play and see how well he can do," linebacker Lance Briggs sniped.

There were not enough boos to drown out the testy exchange because thousands of other fed-up fans already had left Soldier Field of their own volition. As time expired on the first loss in four weeks for the Bears (4-6), the stadium sat nearly two-thirds empty.

In that setting, the only thing more striking than the sight of a pro athlete and a fan verbally sparring given Friday's NBA melee in Detroit might have been Briggs' eventual acknowledgment that he believed the Bears deserved the heckler's harangue.

"We got beat up, and it got the best of the fan so he wanted to take it out on us," Briggs said. "It's kind of understandable."

Briggs made news before the game by guaranteeing a victory over the Colts. But afterward he could not be sure what hit him and the defense.

His name was Edgerrin James. In the third-best day ever by a running back against the Bears, James spun, stomped and sliced through a soft Bears run defense for 204 yards on 23 carries.

The domination might have been worse had Colts coach Tony Dungy not spared deeper embarrassment for his friend, Bears coach Lovie Smith, by resting James and quarterback Peyton Manning the entire fourth quarter.

Examining the Bears' defense at the line before every snap like a doctor scanning an X-ray, Manning completed 17 of 28 passes for 211 yards and four TDs. But more than one Bears defensive player credited Manning for the Colts' running game clicking as effectively as the passing.

"He had our defense figured out and knew everywhere we were going to be, and he was changing the directions of plays," defensive end Michael Haynes said. "[But] you don't go up against the best offense in football very often."

And it's a good thing for the Bears, no match for either Manning's brain or James' brawn.

"We just got whipped," linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer said. "This one hurts your pride."

Not to mention it bruised a few egos, such as rookie defensive tackle Tommie Harris'. He had boasted that the Bears had the best defensive line in the NFL and that the Colts' offense did not impress him.

The only thing that left a deeper impression than the Indy offense might have been James' cleat marks on the backs of Bears defensive linemen as he consistently ran over them.

"Sometimes [people] have bad days at work," Harris said. "We had a bad day at work."

It took a turn for the worse when Briggs let a sure interception and likely touchdown slip through his fingertips with 6 minutes 12 seconds left in the first quarter.

The Colts had scored on their opening series, Manning directing the drive as if he were putting together a video for NFL Films. But on the next set of downs, on second-and-5, he checked into a quick slant to Marvin Harrison that Briggs read perfectly. The ball hit Briggs right in the hands, with nothing but 40 yards of open space between him and the north end zone. But Briggs dropped it, and the Bears' best scoring opportunity until late in the game fell to the turf.

"I thought I had a good play, and it slipped out of my hands," Briggs said.

That was only the beginning of how the Bears' inability to possess the football early made for a long day against one of the NFL's best teams. Three of the Bears' five turnovers came in the second quarter—all in their own territory.

A Bobby Wade fumble in the second quarter led to a 34-yard Mike Vanderjagt field goal. A Craig Krenzel fumble at his own 9-yard line, when he simply dropped the ball before a handoff, preceded a 10-yard TD pass from Manning to Harrison two plays later.

Finally, an interception of Krenzel by cornerback Joseph Jefferson with 4:23 left in the first half set up a 20-yarder from Vanderjagt that gave the Colts a 27-3 lead heading into the locker room.

The Bears even had trouble holding the ball after Colts mistakes.

Adrian Peterson forced Dominic Rhodes to fumble on a first-quarter kickoff, but Todd Johnson dropped the recovery when he tried to run with it instead of falling on it. Six plays later, Manning struck again for a 35-yard missile to Reggie Wayne over rookie cornerback Nathan Vasher.

"We missed a couple of plays, and it kind of snowballed a little bit," Smith said after the Bears' worst home defeat since the Green Bay Packers pounded them 37-6 on Oct. 6, 1996.

"Did I see this coming? No," Smith said. "Even the good defenses will have games like this. You just don't want to have too many."

Another anemic showing by an offense that gained only 224 total yards did not help.

Against the NFL's 19th-best rushing defense, the run-oriented Bears opened the game with their rookie quarterback throwing three straight passes. In the pivotal first half, they threw nearly 60 percent of the time—19 passes and 13 runs.

A failed quarterback sneak on third-and-1 from the Bears' 32 on the second series only foreshadowed the frustration to follow.

Running back Thomas Jones returned to the starting lineup after missing three games with a sprained toe and gained 59 yards on 18 carries, but the Colts' big lead never allowed the Bears to sustain the running game they ignored early.

Krenzel completed 14 of 24 passes for 175 yards, two interceptions and a meaningless late touchdown to tight end Dustin Lyman. He was sacked four times, fumbled twice and played the fourth quarter with a bruised right knee.

"Did I make progress? Some plays yes, some plays no," Krenzel said. "It's great that it's a short week [so we can] get this bitter taste out of our mouths."

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