TAMPA—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.
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."