It's hard to point the finger in Paul Edinger's direction, but for the second game in a row the placekicker's right foot cost the Bears a chance at victory.
The defense did more than their share to position the Bears for a third straight win at home. While St. Louis moved the ball for the majority of the game the high powered attack had trouble putting points on the board.
Three turnovers kept the Bears ahead for the bulk of the game, but the fact that the Bears didn't turn any of the turnovers into points proved to be the difference as the Rams came away with a 23-21 victory.
For the second straight game a field goal in the final minute of the game kept the Bears out of the win column. A 31-yard field goal by Jeff Wilkins with 38 seconds on the clock proved to be the game-winner.
While the Bears could have called on Edinger to attempt a 57-yard field goal, Jauron went with his kicker's judgment.
"I talked to him before the drive, talked to Mike (Sweatman), special teams coach) during the drive and I talked to Paul again at that point," Jauron said. "It was too long of a kick for him. He's very good about that, very factual about what he can and cannot do."
Edinger has four game-wining kicks to his credit including a 50-yarder against the Raiders this season. His career long of 54 yards came in the Silverdome nearly three years ago and was also a game-winner.
The usually reliable kicker missed a 34-yard opportunity during the course of the game, which means he's missed three consecutive attempts.
"He's in a slump and it's very uncharacteristic of him," Jauron said of Edinger's struggles.
Edinger was not alone in his struggles. The offense produced just 14 points as a 60-yard punt return for a touchdown by R.W. McQuarters gave the Bears a 7-3 second quarter advantage.
McQuarters took Sean Landeta's 48-yard punt at the 40 and started on the east side of the field made a move past Spencer Nead and Bryce Fisher. McQuarters then cut across the field outrunning Jamie Duncan and Sean Landeta were the last men with a chance to bring down the return short of the end zone.
"Actually, when I caught the ball, I saw a signal like come this way. After that it was just daylight," McQuarters said of his second career punt return for a touchdown. "You see the end zone and basically the only thing you think about is getting there and not getting caught."
Another scoring drive began in Rams territory because the defense took down Bulger on three consecutive plays.
Anthony Thomas, who carried 23 times for 92 yards, got the ball on eight of the nine plays on a drive that culminated in a one-yard score by the back on 4th down. Edinger's PAT extended the Bears lead to 14-3.
On the ensuing kickoff Ahmad Merritt came up with a hit that forced Spencer Nead to fumble and Joe Odom came out of a pile with the ball. Chris Chandler, who looked out of sync for the second straight game couldn't get anything going. He completed 16-of-32 passing attempts and threw two interceptions.
An Edinger missed field goal seemed to sway the momentum back to the visitors.
The Bears held their 11-point advantage deep into the third quarter. Marshall Faulk remained quiet for the most of the day, but the future Hall of Famer busted a 52-yard run on 4th and one. With an eight-man defensive front a whole popped open and Faulk took off.
"He busted through the line and on short yardage plays if you make it through the first line or you're going to run a long way," said Brian Urlacher.
A touchdown saving tackle by McQuarters saved the day temporarily, as Bulger connected to Torry Holt for a 4-yard score two plays later.
Mike Martz, who lived up to his reputation as a risk taker, had Wilkins onside kick the ensuing kickoff. The Rams Arlen Harris came up with the ball on a bang-bang play that the Bears challenged and lost.
The return team had been warned about the potential for trickery and Bobby Gray was in position to make the catch, until Courtland Bullard launched himself into the safety. The Rams recovered and combined with their previous drive held the ball for nine minutes. The defense looked fatigued during a 13-play drive that ended with Bulger's second TD pass of the game. A 4-yard completion to Brandon Manumaleuna reclaimed the lead for the Rams at 20-14.
For the only time in the second half the Bears offense moved the ball. It took Chandler just three completions to put Chicago back in front. Consecutive passes to Marty Booker (24 yards), Desmond Clark (27) yards and White for an 11-yard touchdown took just over a minute and a 21-20 fourth quarter advantage.
Edinger's nightmare of a day continued as he booted the ensuing kickoff out of bounds that gave the Rams the ball at the 40-yard line.
The defense responded with their second interception of the day. Jerry Azumah picked off Bulger, giving the offense a chance to secure the victory.
Two one-yard carries by Thomas, followed by a Chandler incompletion resulted in a three-and-out.
The additional chance proved to be costly. It looked like the Bears had pinned the Rams inside at their one-yard line, but Merritt had been ruled to have touched the ball after going into the end zone. The play could not be reviewed because the Bears have already use both of their challenges.
St. Louis took over at their 20-yard line and marched forward. A methodical 13-play drive was aided by an illegal contact penalty on Lance Briggs and an illegal use of hands flag on Charles Tillman. Although both infractions were only five-yard penalties the second proved to be more costly because it negated a sack, which would have been the Bears fifth of the game.
Even after Wilkins third field goal of the game the Bears had one last chance to win the game.
With no timeouts the Bears needed a big play to have a chance at a field goal. Jerry Azumah provided the punch with a 38-yard kick return that the Bears at their 45 with 31 ticks left.
With good field position the Bears needed 20 yards for Edinger to have a realistic shot on a worn playing surface.
An 11-yard completion to Dez White picked up more than half of the necessary distance, but the receiver failed to get of bounds fighting for extra yardage.
"When it doesn't work out, then you say he should have gotten out of bounds," Coach Dick Jauron said. "Had he taken the pass and gone 10 or 12 yards, then we are right there in field goal range. It's a decision a player has a split second to make."
The error in judgment cost the Bears, as Chandler couldn't spike the ball until 16 seconds remained. A 4-yard catch by David Terrell stopped the clock with 11 seconds. However the game ended with consecutive incompletions from Chandler to White.
The loss drops the Bears to 3-7 with a trip to Denver on the docket next week.