Rival Report: Bears

Kordell Stewart called it the worst game of his career, but some are impressed with his demeanor during his struggles. Plus, information on the Bears' return game and injury updates.

Kordell Stewart was supposed to provide the Bears with an upgrade at quarterback, but he was picked off three times in the 49-7 season-opening loss, and the air game netted just 72 yards.

Stewart was also sacked five times and knocked down several more times. He needs to regroup in a hurry as the Bears prepare for Sunday night's nationally televised game against the Vikings in Minnesota. According to teammates, Stewart hasn't lost any of the positive outlook that he's displayed since the day he was signed to take over leadership of the offense.

"I think he took it in stride," said free-agent tight end Desmond Clark, who was limited to two catches for nine yards in his Bears debut. "If I was the quarterback and I was getting hit like that, I don't know if I'd have been able to stay positive like that because he took a beating. And the whole time he stayed positive throughout the whole game.

"Never once did he get down on anybody, start pointing the finger, (saying) 'Let's go. (Gosh darn), y'all ain't doing what y'all supposed to.' There was none of that. He stayed upbeat the whole time and that showed me a lot."

Stewart isn't the only one who needs to get over his performance in the season opener.

"The guys have to come back and put it behind them, (but) we need to learn from it," coach Dick Jauron said of the 49-7 loss to the 49ers. "I think we have. We've made our corrections. We're past it."

Players appear to have gotten the message, and they're anxious to move on.

"The coaches just wanted to look at the film (on Monday) and then, 'OK we looked at the film, now let's burn the film and move on,'" Clark said. "That's basically what the whole approach. You have to let this go. Like (offensive coordinator John) Shoop said, 'If we let this sit and fester, it'll be a long year.' But he also said we can't totally forget about it. We have to remember what happened so we don't let it happen anymore. But we can't let it eat away at us."

The makeshift offensive line is especially eager for a shot at redemption after an opening performance that netted just 127 yards, less than half of last year's average of 275 and 201 yards less than last season's league average.

"We're going to put it on our shoulders and carry the load," said left guard Steve Edwards, who started his first NFL game last week. "We have to. If we don't get it done up front then the offense isn't going to work. We're looking to come back and have a better showing for the whole offense."

The Vikings might appear on paper to be an ideal opponent for getting an offense back on line. Minnesota was 30th in points allowed last season, 29th in passing yards and 26th in total yards allowed.

But coach Mike Tice has upgraded his defense in the offseason, adding talented linebacker Chris Claiborne, first-round draft pick Kevin Williams at defensive end and cornerback Denard Walker to the starting lineup. In their opening-day victory over the Packers, the improved defense picked off Brett Favre four times and limited Green Bay to 62 yards on the ground.

It was the fourth straight win for the Vikings, who defeated the Saints, Dolphins and Lions to close out the 2002 season.

Going back to last season, the Bears have lost four of their last five and 13 of their last 15.


Lacina vs. Hovan
The Vikings' outstanding young defensive tackle Chris Hovan practiced against the Bears' new starting right guard Corbin Lacina for the past three years when Lacina started 41 games for Minnesota. So there won't be any surprises when they collide Sunday night. Both players are hard-working grunts, and their matchup could be one of the keys to the game.

"I had a lot of respect for Corbin Lacina when he was here," Hovan said. He's a tough guy and a really good locker room leader. He has my respect because I had to go against him every day. I think it's going to be fun. I know it's going to be a homecoming for Corbin, but he's one of those tough, nitty-gritty players that's going to get after you on every down, so I can really appreciate that as a player."

In the last meeting at the Metrodome, a 25-7 Bears loss, the losers held the ball for just 18:57 and were outgained 364-218.



Return game
It's not official yet, but rookie wide receiver Bobby Wade doesn't expect to be returning punts this week after his fumble last week gave the 49ers the ball at the Bears' six-yard line.

Wade's fumbled punt inside his 10-yard line may be the reason the Bears need to try McQuarters in that role, which Ahmad Merritt has also played in the past. They have resisted the temptation to use McQuarters in the past, not wanting to risk injury to their best cornerback, but these are desperate times * or something close to desperate.

"If they want me to do it, I'm cool about it," said McQuarters, who returned 12 punts for a modest 8.0-yard average in 2001. "But I don't know if you'd call it desperate. Desperate is when you're all out of assets and you're all out of ammo. Right now they're just trying to find ways to win."

"It was a costly mistake," Wade said. "It was big. I can't blame them. I'm not surprised at the decision. I'm just disappointed. I wish I could have an opportunity to get comfortable, but that's the way the game goes, that's the way the business works. I just can't make that mistake. It's as simple as that."

Wade, who returned two punts for nine yards, doesn't even expect to be on the active roster this Sunday, but he hopes he won't have to wait long for a shot at redemption.

"I'm pretty sure the time will come again where I'll have the opportunity to get active," Wade said. "I'll just keep plugging and when an opportunity arises, just capitalize on it."

Wade's best bet for playing time is as a punt returner, since he and fellow rookie wide receiver Justin Gage are fifth and sixth on the depth chart. Wade knows as a rookie he isn't allowed many second chances.

"You could only expect that," he said. "If the situation happened to somebody else, I don't know how it would play out. But as a rookie you don't have much room to be playing around back there, and I've got to expect that. You've got to be on your p's and q's at all times. I just hope they don't think it's a lack of my ability or my passion as far as being back there because I take it very seriously."

Ahmad Merritt looked like a big play waiting to happen on kickoffs during the preseason but on nine attempts vs. the 49ers, his longest return was 24 yards, and his 18.9-yard average was far below the league average of 21.8. "There were opportunities there," Jauron said. "I thought we missed some opportunities. I thought there were some creases that we missed and clearly we missed some blocks, too."


Notes
* WR David Terrell is expected to see more playing time this week at the expense of Dez White. Terrell had just one catch for six yards last week.

* WR Dez White may have played himself out of the starting lineup last week when he caught just three of the 12 passes intended for him, netting just 28 yards. White also missed a block on a punt return that resulted in Bobby Wade's fumble, giving the 49ers the ball at the Bears' six-yard line.

* CB R.W. McQuarters could replace rookie Bobby Wade as the Bears' punt returner. McQuarters returned punts full-time as a 49ers rookie in 1998 and part-time in 1999. He had 12 pun returns for the Bears in 2001.

* WR Bobby Wade probably won't return punts this week after his costly fumble gave the 49ers the ball at the Bears' six-yard line last week. Wade doesn't think he'll even be active this week.



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