Season takes turn for the ugly

It wasn't just Jason Hanson kicking a 48-yard field goal 4:48 into overtime for a 23-20 Detroit Lions win that was difficult for the Bears to accept.

More importantly, the loss showed something far more foreboding for the Bears than their fourth straight defeat and a 2-4 record.

It showed this season may well be a lost cause with 10 games still to play.

"If we're going to find an identity for this team this year, 2002, we'd better do it quick, because right now the identity isn't there," defensive tackle Bryan Robinson said.

Their identity so far is a team with an inability to protect leads either by running out the clock at game's end or with a big defensive stop. In the NFL, those two qualities spell loser.

For the third time in their four-game losing streak, the Bears blew a fourth-quarter lead. This time they let a 20-14 second-half edge slip away on Hanson field goals of 30 yards in the third quarter and 24 yards just before the end of regulation -- the tying points coming after their offense failed to convert a crucial third-and-six and the Lions got the ball back for a tying, 12-play drive in the last 2:21.

They got outgained 362 yards-224 by a team that had lost 18 of its previous 21 games. Worse, they literally handed the Lions the game with first-half turnovers that resulted in Lions TD drives of 6 and 16 yards, then had another turnover prevent what could have been a game-clinching type score at the end of the third quarter.

"You can't just give the ball away three times, particularly at the 6-yard line and inside the 20 and expect to come out of it and win," Bears coach Dick Jauron said.

The Bears had prided themselves on their top NFC ranking against the run last year, but got overwhelmed Sunday by the worst running team in the league. Running back James Stewart tore through them for 172 yards rushing on 32 carries. Following a poor Paul Edinger kickoff out of bounds, Stewart rammed the ball into the teeth of the Bears' defense with six straight carries for 26 yards before fullback Curt Schlesinger's 4-yard preceded Hanson's winning kick.

"We stunk out there today, and we looked extremely bad," Robinson said.

Quarterback Chris Chandler spoiled an otherwise efficient Bears debut (16-of-25 for 163 yards) by forcing an interception to set up a 16-yard drive to Stewart's 1-yard second-quarter TD dive.

"I just wanted to make something big happen. I just was kind of overexcited," Chandler said.

Earlier in the quarter, normally sure-handed running back Anthony Thomas fumbled at the 6-yard line to set up a 6-yard Stewart TD run a play later that wiped out a 3-0 lead established on Edinger's 53-yard field goal. The Bears had spotted Detroit a 14-3 first-half lead.

"We kind of took our turns giving them their points," Chandler said.

However, the Bears awoke after falling behind by 11. Chandler passed for 74 yards on a 79-yard drive that ended in a 14-yard TD pass to Marty Booker with fives seconds left in the half. Then he completed a 38-yard to Dez White on the first possession of the second half on a TD drive that ended with Thomas' 1-yard plunge and a 17-14 Bears lead.

"It took a while to calm me down," said Chandler, who had little preseason or practice snaps in the regular season. "That two-minute drill did it."

The Bears then capitalized on a Lions error. Robinson knocked the ball away from quarterback Joey Harrington in the open field and Alfonso Boone recovered at the Lions' 25 to set up a 42-yard Edinger field goal for a 20-14 edge.

The Bears seemed poised to expand a 20-17 edge late in the third quarter and take control. Ahmad Merritt returned the kickoff after Hanson's 30-yard field goal for 63 yards to the Lions. 2. But Thomas, who rushed for 92 yards on 26 carries, lost a fumble that linebacker Donte Curry recovered at the Lions' 32.

"It's something that I don't really pay that much attention to during the week," Thomas said of working on holding the football. "That's one of the things, I guess I've got to go back to -- the little fundamental things to try and get myself back and running."

The Bears successfully protected the 20-17 lead until Harrington, who went 16-of-30 for 199 yards, led game-tying drive of 65 yards. The defense made a goal-line stand, forcing the Lions into a field goal try with five seconds left after four straight plays from inside the 2 failed to net the winning TD.

"We dropped an interception in our hands the first play of the ballgame," defensive coordinator Greg Blache said of a ball Rosevelt Colvin could easily have returned for a TD. "I think we had one turnover the whole ballgame. You've got to make plays. The name of the game is to make plays and we're not making plays."

The loss, particularly the way it occurred, had the entire team talking in low tones afterward. The locker room was void of almost all bravado.

"We've got a couple players who mentioned that they started a year 2-6 and ended up in the playoffs, and had a good showing," said Robinson, trying to find a ray of hope.

Teams have recovered from worse starts than 2-4 to make the playoffs, but none since 1996.

"The feeling is a bad feeling in the locker room," Chandler said. "It's a feeling you would expect it to be."

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