Bears stumble, storm back, lose

Tribune staff reporter

The legend of Tom Waddle was further embellished during a 34-31 Bears preseason loss to New Orleans Monday night.

It was only an exhibition, but what an exhibition it was for the fairy tale wide receiver turned punt returner and kick holder from Boston College.

The Saints, incidentally, won on Cary Blanchard's 26-yard field goal at the gun, seconds after Bears fans seated in the south end of Soldier Field chanted for the irrepressible Waddle to go in to try and block the kick.

Minutes earlier, Waddle had returned a punt 76 yards for a touchdown to tie the game at 31.

Waddle, who is being tried as a punt returner more for his sure hands than his breakaway speed, actually dropped Tommy Barnhardt's kick before weaving his way for a TD.

"I will do what they ask me to do. I can't assure you that I will return one for a touchdown once or twice or whatever. But I am pretty confident that I will catch them nine out of 10 times," said Waddle, signed by the Bears as an undrafted free agent four years ago before being cut three times and emerging as a starter (55 catches) last season.

"I have spent so much time on the downside of things in the last few years that it is just nice to do something and be appreciated.

"You see an opening, and you run for it. Punt returning is a difficult job. I have a lot of compassion for anyone who goes back there and takes some of those hits. It is an instinctive thing, I guess. If it gives me a paycheck every week, I will learn to like it."

But Waddle wasn't the only Bears player to make a positive statement.

Fourth-year running back Mark Green ran for 55 yards on just six rushes.

Green, in his fourth year out of Notre Dame, is often overlooked in the Bears' backfield assessment. Neal Anderson and Darren Lewis always seem to be the main attractions.

"I am like the guy in the middle," said Green. "People come out and see us play and say: 'Well, how did Neal Anderson do tonight? And how about the new guy?' They skip right over me. I'm used to it now. But I'm here, too."

Rookie quarterback Will Furrer completed 3 of 5 passes for 63 yards and a TD in the entertaining contest witnessed by 53,846 fans.

The Bears roared back from a 31-17 deficit to tie the game at 31 on a 19- yard pass from Furrer to Eric Wright, and Waddle's punt return with just 1:42 left.

Waddle caught his breath momentarily before holding Kevin Butler's tying extra point.

Young tackles Stan Thomas and Troy Auzenne were feeling the heat of the Saints' defense early. Each jumped offside in anticipation of the rush of Pro Bowlers Pat Swilling, Sam Mills and Rickey Jackson.

"It's a lot harder than it looks," said Auzenne, who added that he had butterflies all day anticipating his first pro game. "I have to brush up on all my fundamentals and techniques."

Bears quarterbacks Jim Harbaugh and Paul Justin were sacked a combined three times.

"Stan has a job to do and I am very confident he can do it. We are going to keep getting him better, and Troy Auzenne," said coach Mike Ditka.

"Our execution leaves a lot to be desired, and hopefully that will get better. You have to give them credit; they tried hard."

The Saints led 17-7 at the half, converting two Bears turnovers into 10 points.

Running back Dalton Hilliard capped a 61-yard Saints drive with a 1-yard touchdown plunge in the opening minutes of the second quarter. Blanchard, filling in for injured veteran Morten Andersen, converted for a 7-0 lead.

The drive included passes of 14 and 19 yards from quarterback Bobby Hebert to tight end Hoby Brenner and Hilliard.

The Bears tied the game with a 10-yard pass from Harbaugh to wide open tight end Keith Jennings with 6:42 left in the second quarter.

Harbaugh had completions of 12 and 13 yards to Wendell Davis and an 11-yarder to Ron Morris to set up the score.

The Bears and Saints each have a James Williams on their roster. It was the Saints' Williams who had the bigger impact in the first half, recovering two fumbles that led to scores.

Bears backup quarterback Peter Tom Willis passed two yards to rookie tight end Todd Harrison, who was separated from the ball by Renaldo Turnbull. The Saints' Williams picked it up and rambled 21 yards for the TD and a 14-7 New Orleans lead with 2:27 left in the half.

Williams was in the right place 20 seconds later when Willis fumbled. The recovery was made at the Bears' 29. When the drive stalled, Blanchard converted a 37-yard field goal.

Harbaugh completed 7 of 12 passes for 84 yards and one TD in his 1½-quarter stint. He was sacked once and ran once on third down for seven yards and a first down.

"We had two key turnovers and five key penalities in the first half. That is pretty hard to operate with," Ditka said.

The Bears took advantage of a bizarre turnover early in the third period to pull within 17-10.

Mike Buck's pass intended for Torrance Small hit Bears safety David Tate in the numbers. The ball popped into the air and teammate James Lott made the interception. He returned the ball 17 yards to the Saints' 33. Four plays later, Butler booted a 40-yard field goal.

"If I had run it for a touchdown, maybe it would have made a difference in the game," Lott said. "But Tate helped me out on that one. Those kinds of plays may come one out of 10 times."

Late in the third quarter, the Bears forced another Saints turnover. Buck's pass to Nathaniel Bolton came loose on rookie Jim Swantz's hard hit. Michael Stonebreaker recovered at the Saints' 37.

But Justin was sacked for a 7-yard loss on first down and Gardocki punted only 7 yards on fourth down after a high snap from center.

The Saints took a 24-17 fourth-quarter lead on rookie Vaughn Dunbar's 19- yard TD run down the right sideline, capping a 66-yard drive.

The Saints appeared to blow the game open with a 44-yard touchdown run by Fred McAfee with 5:22 left in the game for a 31-17 advantage. Marcus Dowdell's 33-yard punt return had given the Saints excellent field position.

Furrer took over at quarterback with 5:15 left in the game. His deep pass in the hands of wide receiver Anthony Morgan was dropped.

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