Step forward

FOXBORO, Mass. _ The Bears received the offensive consistency they'd sought all preseason when they finished the preseason Wednesday night in Gillette Stadium.

The reserves, however, let them down in a 38-23 defeat by the New England Patriots, which left them with a 1-3 record.

Patrick Pass' 21-yard run with 14:12 left in the fourth quarter and 1-yard plunge with 5:28 left in the game rallied New England back from a 23-17 fourth-quarter deficit. The Patriots clinched a 4-0 preseason on a 9-yard Rohan Davey-to-Dedric Ward touchdown pass with 1:53 to play.

``In the second half we just couldn't hold on, we couldn't stop the run and clearly we didn't cover close enough and we turned the ball over and you don't win turning the ball over,'' Bears coach Dick Jauron said.

The Bears' second- and third-team defenses completely caved in after reserve safety Cameron Worrell had returned a fumble 30 yards for a third-quarter touchdown and 23-17 Bears lead, off-setting an earlier 93-yard TD return by Leonard Myers for a score after Bears back Rabih Abdullah's fumble.

Then Bears' reserve defense in the second half gave up 216 of the Patriots' 381 yards.

During its brief stint on the field, the Bears' first-team offense displayed something heretofore unseen in preseason: a consistent running game.

``I like the way that our team came out and ran the ball effectively,'' Jauron said. ``It's what we needed to see and what we wanted to do early in the game, so there were some positive things.''

The Bears drove 61 yards in 10 plays their second possession, with Adrian Peterson gaining all 26 of his total rushing yards on five attempts. Peterson broke a 16-yarder to the Patriots' 29 during the drive.

Kordell Stewart, who finished 3-of-4 passing for 26 yards, threw a third-and-goal, 3-yard fade to Marty Booker behind two defenders for the TD and 7-0 lead with 2:36 left in the first quarter.

''We went out and scored and got a touchdown early, which is something that we wanted to get accomplished -- that I know I wanted to get accomplished and I know the coaches wanted to get accomplished, too,'' Stewart said.

Anthony Thomas gained a preseason personal high 37 yards on seven carries, including 18 yards during a 21-yard drive to a 51-yard Paul Edinger field goal in the second quarter for a 10-7 lead as the Bears continued to focus on the ground.

``I told Kordell he might not even get to throw a pass,'' said offensive coordinator John Shoop said.

The Bears ran 27 of their 44 plays through three quarters, then backup Rex Grossman turned to the pass in the fourth quarter.

``We took three games and threw the ball all over the place to get a feel for Kordell,'' Jauron said. ``We wanted to come out and try to run the ball a little bit early against a team we think is a very good football team.''

The Bears' first-team defense continued showing inconsistency.

They forced a Patriots punt after one first down on New England's opening possession. But the Patriots used a no-huddle offense to go 63 yards in eight plays to tie the score at 7-7 on the first play of the second quarter when Troy Brown caught an 8-yard Tom Brady third-down pass.

``That no huddle was something they hadn't shown much of before,'' defensive end Phillip Daniels said. ``I don't think that would be a problem if we had time to prepare for it.''

The Bears' backup defense proved entirely ineffective.

The Patriots drove 71 yards in 10 plays to Vinateri's 31-yard game-tying second-quarter field goal to make the score 10-10 after Edinger had given the Bears the 10-7 lead

Final cuts are due by Sunday and the Bears must trim 21 players. General manager Jerry Angelo said the cuts will occur in several stages over the next few days.

Several Bears made statements in attempts to secure roster spots:

---Ahmad Merritt, who made a 22-yard TD catch of Grossman's pass to tie the score at 17-17, displayed a knack for big kickoff returns that no other Bear has shown to date. Merritt made first-half kickoff returns of 45, 43 and 30 yards. Jauron said Merritt had made the team.

``I've counted on him going into camp because he can play teams -- all of them,'' Jauron said. ``He covers and makes plays, he returns and makes plays. That's a big issue with us.

``So Ahmad Merritt is a good football player. And he'll be a part of our team.''

---Undrafted free agent safety pickup Worrell, who returned a third-quarter fumble caused by Michael Haynes for a 30-yard go-ahead, third-quarter touchdown to make the score 23-17. In addition to scoring a TD on a return, also had four first-half tackles.

---Veteran linebacker Mike Caldwell, who recovered a first-half fumble, broke up a third-quarter pass with a vicious open-field hit on Patriots back Mike Malan, made a team-high 10 tackles and had a pass deflection. It may not be enough to make the roster, however, due to Caldwell's larger salary and the presence of some impressive young linebackers.

---Tight end Dustin Lyman, who had only two catches prior to Wednesday, but made four for 42 yards and a 15-yarder in a game-tying third-quarter TD drive.

Among the losers were:

---Cornerback Roosevelt Williams, hoping to beat out Todd McMillon as the fourth cornerback, completely misplayed a bomb and allowed a 36-yard completion down the sidelines to Dedric Ward on the final play of the third quarter.

---Second-year tight end Bryan Fletcher, who let a second-down pass sail right through his hands in the early fourth quarter.

``I think it was a successful preseason,'' linebacker Brian Urlacher said. ``We got through it healthy and that's the main thing.''

Bears starting guard Rex Tucker left the field for the locker room with a slight ankle sprain. Strong safety Bobby Gray suffered leg cramps, forcing starter Mike Green to play almost all the fourth quarter.

The Bears get a week and a half to prepare now for the opener in San Francisco.

``It's off to the races now,'' Stewart said. ``It's not time to be nervous or scared. It's time to play ball. This is what we live for.''

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