2nd-half collapse just devastating

Tribune staff reporter

They are the Charlie Browns of the National Football League.

Each game the ball is jerked out from under them. Each week they come back for more. And every time the Bears depart politely into the night--the sooner to get beat up again.

On this Sunday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would score 27 unanswered points--all in the second half--to step on and over their prone visitors for a 27-15 victory.

The story line may change, but the pain does not. In fact, it gets worse. For if there was a sense of hope in two previous defeats, then this was all the more demoralizing for their inability to both score and to protect a lead. And all the more distressing at 0-3, as they come closer and closer to redeveloping the inferiority complex that doomed them last season.

"It was as ugly a turnaround as any game I've been around," said coach Dave Wannstedt, who indeed has an ever-widening point of reference.

Accountability is not a problem.

Offense. Defense. Special teams. Everyone on the Bears is willing to take the blame. And should.

"This is as tough a loss as there is to take," said quarterback Erik Kramer. "It's hard for me to even look anybody on the defense in the eye."

Here's why: On four consecutive first-half possessions, the Bears found themselves inside Tampa Bay's 20-yard line, only to come away disappointed each time:

- On their second possession of the game, the Bears had a first-and-10 at the Bucs 13-yard line and came away with a 26-yard field goal by Jeff Jaeger.

- Following a 10-play drive on their next possession that included a 47-yard pass from Erik Kramer and a first-and-goal from the Bucs 5-yard line, Wannstedt elected to try for the touchdown on fourth-and-1, only to have rookie running back Curtis Enis tripped up at the 2.

- Following a Tampa Bay fumble by fullback Mike Alstott--forced by Barry Minter and recovered by Jim Flanigan at the Bucs 38--the Bears ended up turning the ball back over following a failed 29-yard field goal by Jeff Jaeger.

- Following another Tampa Bay fumble by Dave Moore--knocked loose by Sean Harris and recovered by Walt Harris at the Bucs 31--the Bears gave it back on a fumble by Ryan Wetnight at the 5-yard line.

In total, the Bears ran 16 first-half plays inside Tampa Bay's 16-yard line and came away with three points.

"I don't have the words to describe it," said Kramer. "I just know everyone here is looking for answers as to why we're not getting the ball in the end zone. I'm embarrassed that on offense, we only scored six points in the first half. I don't know who but ourselves to look at and accept responsibility for this loss."

Besides Jaeger's 26-yarder, the Bears scored on a 93-yard punt return by Glyn Milburn, who scored on a kickoff return against Jacksonville in the season opener; a safety forced by defensive end John Thierry, who pushed Trent Dilfer out of the end zone; and a 52-yard field goal by Jaeger to close out the half.

"My biggest concern came true," said offensive lineman Todd Perry. "We didn't find a way to get into the end zone. That game should have been over at halftime, and it wasn't, and that's what's most disappointing because we were in total control the first half."

The Bucs, whose 28 rushing yards in Sunday's first half were emblematic of their 0-2 start, came out considerably more determined in christening the new Raymond James Stadium after intermission.

"In the second half," said Bears linebacker Rico McDonald, "they made a concerted effort that in order for us to win the game, we were going to have to stop them running."

Tampa Bay began its mission with a 14-play, 81-yard drive that ate up the first 8 minutes 59 seconds of the second half, culminating in a 13-yard touchdown pass from Dilfer to Reidel Anthony that clearly stole all momentum. "It all flipped on a dime," said offensive lineman Andy Heck.

In the second half, the Bucs had 192 yards rushing and 301 net yards against a Bears defense that looked nothing if not weary. "At the end, we were missing tackles, and when you miss tackles, it's because you're tired," said Wannstedt.

The Bucs confounded the Bears with a 44-yard play-action pass to a wide-open Moore, who snared it one-handed to draw them to 15-13. Then Warrick Dunn scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 43-yard gallop early in the fourth quarter, eluding most of the Bears defenders and particularly their secondary.

With the Bears down 21-15 with just under 14 minutes remaining in regulation, there was certainly time for them to come back.

But it sure felt over.

"It's been the same song every week," said Conway, who touched the ball twice in the second half, the final time fumbling to set up the Bucs' final score. "It gets real frustrating that the defense plays well and gives us the ball in scoring territory and we don't capitalize."

The Bears managed just 37 yards in total offense in the second half, but it was the defense that ultimately collapsed under the pressure. "The offense had put enough points on the board for us to win," said defensive tackle Mike Wells. "The defense has to have enough pride or whatever you want to call it to get the job done. We should have won the game just based on the halftime score."

But they did not. And the red-clad Buccaneers fans, hanging out of their new end zone pirate ship, had merely to ride out the tide.

"When you're playing on the road against a division opponent, opening a stadium and to have the kind of start we had and the opportunity to take the fans out of it, to take the opposing team out of it and you don't do it, it's going to come back to haunt you," said Perry.

It may end up haunting them beyond Sunday. For as they dragged out of the visitors' locker room Sunday night, it was clear they would at least be back again next week.

"When things are bad or when things are worse, that's when a true professional is going to step up and still prepare and be ready," Minter said defiantly. "And that's what I hope all 58 of us do."

Copyright © 2018, CT Now