CHAMPAIGN—On the Bears' trip south along Interstate 57 from Bourbonnais to Memorial Stadium on Saturday afternoon, an Illinois state trooper pulled over the team's three buses. Seems the buses were spending too much time in the left lane.
It wouldn't be the last time Saturday the Bears' method of travel caused some concern.
Kordell Stewart, failed to produce a touchdown on three first-quarter drives in the exhibition opener against the Indianapolis Colts despite taking over once in Indianapolis territory.
Good thing for the Bears that the third-string offense, directed by rookie Rex Grossman, produced a scoring drive to win the game in a manner that may override fans' worries. Grossman led a 50-yard march in the final 2 minutes 39 seconds, a drive sure to be called Elway-esque by Monday morning on sports talk radio.
Paul Edinger's 38-yard field goal as time expired gave the Bears a 20-18 victory over the Colts, who had taken the lead with 3:54 left.
That was when the Colts' Aaron Mooreheadson of former Bear Emery Moorehead, playing on his college fieldcaught a 13-yard touchdown pass. Running back Brian Allen dashed in with the go-ahead two-point conversion to set the stage for Grossman.
"I couldn't have scripted it any better for Rex," coach Dick Jauron said. "I thought he responded pretty well."
By the time he did, Stewart and the rest of the starters were long gone. But their last play of the night was hardly forgotten.
On third-and-10 with 13 seconds left in the first quarter, Stewart fumbled on the Bears' 12-yard line after an offensive-line breakdown freed up Colts lineman Montae Reagor. Reagor jarred the ball loose, and teammate Brad Scioli recovered. Four plays later, the Colts had tied the game 3-3 on a 24-yard field goal by Brett Conway.
Overall, Stewart looked sharp throwing the ball, completing 7-of-8 passes but for only 29 yards. The first six plays were scripted passes. Much to the chagrin of Bears fans waiting to see a different offense from last season, none of Stewart's completions traveled farther than 10 yards in the air. After one pass to Dez White that was parallel to the line of scrimmage, a smattering of boos could be heard in the announced crowd of 52,634.
"It was fun, it was exciting, it was different," Stewart said. "I was able to learn how we do things and it was good to put my uniform on."
The Colts sacked Stewart twice in 14 plays with rushes up the middle, showing that the Bears' offensive line needs more time to develop as a unit. Aaron Gibson was starting at right tackle in place of the injured Marc Colombo, and left tackle Mike Gandy was still getting used to the position after only six starts last year.
The news got worse for the offensive line when versatile Terrence Metcalf, who started at right guard Saturday in place of the injured Chris Villarrial, left the game with a broken left middle finger. Metcalf, enjoying a solid training camp, also serves as the team's backup left tackle. Safety Todd Johnson joined Metcalf on the injured list with a slight concussion and will have his jaw examined Sunday.
Pass-protection trouble aside, the offensive line showed enough improvement in its run-blocking to encourage Bears coaches. Running back Adrian Peterson, looking better every week, started in place of Anthony Thomas and showed good quickness and vision with 36 yards on six carries. Third-down back Rabih Abdullah made sure he wouldn't get lost in the shuffle with 26 yards on just two carries in the first half.
Despite the offense's spotty execution typical of an exhibition opener, Jauron added that he thought Stewart "did a very nice job" and showed flashes of what the Bears expected when they signed the free agent last March. On second-and-4 on the game's second play, for instance, Stewart couldn't find a receiver, so he took off for a 9-yard run that included a nice cutback to elude a tackler.
"That was instinct," Stewart said.
Two plays later, however, Stewart forced his only incompletion of the night into coverage and was lucky that the ball bounced off the hands of former Bear Walt Harris.
"For the first exhibition and first time out, I was pleased with that [No. 1] unit but not pleased with the way we turned the ball over," Jauron said. "We [lost] the ball at the end of the half and gave them seven points for no particularly good reason."
Jauron was referring to a muffed punt by Ahmad Merritt at the Bears' 25-yard line with 1:59 left in the half. Rich Coady of the Colts recovered and five plays later, Indianapolis quarterback Jim Kubiak hit Ricky Williams for a 10-yard TD pass to tie the game 10-10.
Veteran backup Chris Chandler played the second quarter and led the Bears on their first touchdown drive of the night, and it was a good one. Chandler's 22-yard bullet to Merritt with 8:40 left in the half capped an 11-play, 78-yard drive that ate up 6:26. Chandler completed 5-of-10 passes for 48 yards and a TD and, ironically, outrushed Stewart by 3 yards12 to 9.
Until Edinger's kick sailed through the uprights, the biggest cheer came when Grossman entered with 9:59 left in the third quarter and the game tied.
Grossman completed his first pass to tight end Dustin Lyman but went three-and-out in the series. His passes were crisp, if occasionally high, and afterward he expressed disappointment in the way he played despite the way the game ended.
"I wanted to establish something out of this game, and I did," Grossman said. "I was a little sloppy but that last drive was fun."
It was made possible when Bears rookie Ian Scott forced a fumble by Williams at the Bears' 30 with 2:39 left. Linebacker Jerry Schumacher, another Illinois product, recovered.
Defensively, the Bears' first-string unit was pleased that it kept Peyton Manning out of the end zone and the Colts off the scoreboard. Also playing only the first quarter, the Bears' starting unit gave just 50 total yards and caught a break when Colts kicker Mike Vanderjagt missed a 25-yard field-goal attempt with 1:54 left in the quarter. The Colts missed three field-goals tries.
Cornerback Todd McMillon, fighting for a roster spot with Roosevelt Williams, provided points from the Bears' defense the way coordinator Greg Blache had promised the unit would with a 24-yard interception return for a TD with 7:51 left in the third quarter.