2-minute drillers

Tribune staff reporter

You could hardly blame them. It's pouring rain. Their team hadn't shown the ability to move the ball without turning it over, much less score. From the opposing sideline, Mike Ditka, for crying out loud, was glowering at his team to close it out.

None of it is supposed to happen. Jeff Jaeger isn't supposed to miss a 32-yard field goal in the fourth quarter with his team trailing by 10. The refs aren't supposed to pick up a penalty flag against the Bears at their own 20-yard line, negating a 40-yard gain for New Orleans with 1 minute 20 seconds left.

And a hurry-up offense isn't supposed to suddenly operate as if Shane Matthews were John Elway when for three quarters he had been looking more like the opening act for Cade McNown.

"It felt like half the stadium quit on us at the end," Bears offensive tackle Blake Brockermeyer said of the slow trickle to the exits that left Soldier Field looking like a gold-and-blue checkerboard for the dramatic conclusion late Sunday afternoon. "I don't blame them, though."

And you can't blame the Bears for thinking they actually had a chance in overcoming five turnovers after last week's opponent did the same thing to beat them.

And so it was, against all reasonable odds, that Dick Jauron was giving his youngest daughter a victorious birthday hug, and Curtis Conway's twins were attached to their relieved daddy's legs, and Matthews was explaining how he bailed a 14-10 victory out of a scoreless disaster.

"It's kind of sweet with everybody hyping Ditka that we were able to pull out the victory," said Conway, who willed his way into the end zone on a 22-yard pass play from Matthews with 1:48 left, then won the game with a 6-yard catch in the end zone with a mere 7 seconds remaining.

"We've always had confidence," said tight end Alonzo Mayes, "but now the proof's in the pudding that we can actually do it."

"Maybe," said offensive tackle James Williams, smiling at the irony, "we were just meant to win."

In truth, there's no explaining 2-2 any easier than it was understanding 1-2.

"We've said the last two weeks when we suffered losses that they should've happened," said Jauron, "and we feel the same way about this one."

Still, it's hard to justify a victory that included one horrendous stretch in the third quarter in which the Bears turned the ball over on three straight plays, and on four of six plays. Matthews had two interceptions, Edgar Bennett fumbled at the New Orleans 7-yard line and Curtis Enis had another fumble that was recovered at the Bears 31.

That the Saints would get only one field goal out of it--a 30-yarder by Doug Brien after Matthews' first pick was returned to the Bears 39 by Ashley Ambrose--said as much about the Bears' dumb luck as it did about the defense's pluck.

"Our defense played a remarkably good game," said Jauron, citing its improvement on third down as the Saints were just 4 of 15 for 27 percent. "As the game goes along you get a certain feel, and I felt the defense was going to stop them (on the Saints' final drive)."

It was the reason, said Jauron, why he opted to have Todd Sauerbrun kick it deep after Conway's first touchdown rather than try an onside kick. "Of course," said the Bears coach, "then Ricky Williams had a 19-yard run."

Williams, playing with a hyperextended elbow and a sprained ankle, was the chink in the Bears' armor, as he averaged 5 yards per gain in the first half and finished with 84 yards on 21 carries.

"I thought we'd knock him right out of the game or at least get a few fumbles," said Bears tackle Mike Wells. "That elbow is a tough injury, but he's a tough guy."

And then there were the breaks, one big one in particular. Three plays after Williams' 19-yard gain, Walt Harris was initially flagged for interference on Eddie Kennison. The penalty would have given New Orleans, leading 10-7, a first down at the Bears 20 with 1:20 to play and sealed the game. But the flag was picked up, the Saints punted and the Bears went on their six-play, 67-yard, game-winning march.

"I knew there was no way the flag should have been thrown," said Harris. "Once the other official came in and pulled the (other referee) to the side, I thought I had a chance. After that we just kept the faith."

And followed the lead of a player who was set to take the brunt of blame for a loss.

"I was awful early on in the game," said Matthews, who was 25 of 39 for 224 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions under the heavy pressure of the Saints' front seven. "I didn't play real well until the last two drives."

He led the Bears to 183 of their 324 yards in total offense for the game in the fourth quarter--146 yards on the final two drives, audibling at least twice in the final drive.

"Shane got hit a few more times than we would have liked today," said Williams, "but he never got rattled. He stuck right in there."

And gave a team looking down the throat of a schedule that has them visiting Minnesota next week and following with three more road games in the next four weeks some much-needed self-esteem.

"This is something that we didn't have in the past," said guard Todd Perry. "Guys aren't cashing it in when we get down. We stuck together, believed in one another and as bad as it was on offense, we found a way to win it. It's a great feeling because I wasn't going to be able to get up (Monday) after the way we performed offensively."

"It's overwhelming," said defensive tackle Jim Flanigan. "To make mistakes and still believe in each other is a tremendous testimony to us and a tremendous confidence-builder. Nothing feels better."

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