"Whenever they keep score, you want to find a way to come out on top and we found a way to do that," Smith said.
"We're disappointed with some of the holding penalties and some of the offsides, but other than that I thought the guys fought pretty hard against, I might add, a pretty good defensive line," Bears coach Lovie Smith said.
The Rams' defense had four sacks. The Bears' offensive line committed six first-half penalties for 40 yards. For the game, the Bears had almost as many penalty yards (160 on 19 flags) as net passing yards (169).
Starting left tackle Qasim Mitchell and starting right tackle Steve Edwards were both beaten for sacks, starting center Olin Kreutz was called for holding and reserve guard Mike Gandy was flagged twice for holding.
"We'd get a few yards and the penalties would knock us back," Smith said.
Cornerback R.W. McQuarters was beaten on successive plays for gains of 19 and 24 yards on the Rams' first scoring drive, while new Bears cornerback Eric Kelly got flagged for a 30-yard pass interference to set up a Chandler-to-Joey Goodspeed TD pass of 13 yards which gave St. Louis a 10-3 lead.
Quarterback Rex Grossman and starting running back Thomas Jones got one series, but both made impressive plays in putting the Bears' first team up 3-0. Grossman finished his one series 4-of-5 for 39 yards.
"We really liked what our first offense was able to do," Smith said. "Rex has played like that all camp, so it was really good to see him do that in a game."
Penalties helped prevent the Bears from getting into the end zone on the drive. They settled for Edinger's 31-yard field goal to end a march of 8:38.
A 26-yard run by Jones helped overcome false start penalties on tackles Qasim Mitchell and right tackle Steve Edwards. However, a holding against center Olin Kreutz wiped out a 10-yard TD pass from Grossman to fullback Bryan Johnson and an illegal procedure penalty on wide receiver Terrell left the offense facing a third-and-goal at the 25 after they'd reached the Rams' 10.
"That was a great way to start off our season as an offense, being that we got down the field and at least scored a field goal," Grossman said. "We had a touchdown that was called back on penalty, but for the most part we had some good plays and ran them efficiently.
"We just wish that we could have got out there again (with the first team) and got a touchdown, but for the most part we started off strong."
Jones finished with seven carries for 53 yards.
Merritt's return made the win possible after linebacker Joe Odom dropped a certain touchdown and interception inside the Rams' 10 in the closing seconds and wide receiver Jamin Elliott had a Hail Mary pass go through his hands on the game's final play. Following the return, Smith sent Edinger on for the chip shot game-winner.
"It opened up great," Merritt said of the return. "Those guys (blocking) did a good job of blocking. All I had to do was handle the ball."
The Rams' first team had matched the Bears' initial scoring march, with Jeff Wilkins kicking a 33-yard field goal on the final play of the first quarter.
The 67-yard march included successive catches of 19 and 24 yards by the Rams' Isaac Bruce against McQuarters. An illegal contact penalty on linebacker Lance Briggs in pass coverage extended the drive.
After the Rams' TD, the Bears tied the score at 10-10 with their subs in. Jonathan Quinn directed a massive 15-play, 88-yard drive that took 10:04. He hit tight end Gabe Reid for a 1-yard play-action TD on third-and-goal.
"If you're on the 1, they (the defense) have to sell out for the run," said Quinn, who was 11-of-16 for 120 yards with a 111.5 passer rating. "Both our guys (Reid and Mark Anelli) were sitting out there by themselves. I could have taken either one."
The Bears' defense came up with a couple big plays in scoring position to make the win possible.
New Bears cornerback Eric Kelly, the former Minnesota Viking, outwrestled wide receiver Kevin Curtis for an interception just before the end of the first half to kill a Rams drive at the Bears' 35. The Bears also recovered a fumble as the Rams were driving for what would have been the winning score. Odom knocked the ball from receiver Dan Looker and rookie cornerback Nate Vasher recovered at the Bears' 29 with 2:30 left in regulation.
The Rams also lost a touchdown due to penalty when Shaun McDonald's 66-yard punt return with 5:18 left in the game was wiped out due to a holding penalty.