Fans want offense, but Bears happy to win

Thursday, December 13, 2001

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Before the season started, no one gave the Chicago Bears much of a chance to reach .500, let alone make the playoffs.

Now they're 9-3 with a chance to clinch a playoff spot Sunday, and fans are crabbing they're not winning big enough.

So, what gives?

"You've got to laugh in some respects," quarterback Jim Miller said Wednesday. "But that's fine because that means people care. There are high expectations. This town hasn't had a lot of success in the last eight years and now they're having it."

Chicago reveres the Bears like no other team, so the last half-decade has been a little tough. It's been six years since the Bears made the playoffs, and until this year, they hadn't even had a winning season since 1995.

Fans are obviously happy -- ecstatic might be a better word -- that the Bears are winning. But success sometimes breeds greed.

Close contests

Since shutting out Cincinnati on Oct. 21, Chicago has needed overtime to win two games and won two more by just three points each. Then there are the two losses to the Green Bay Packers, Chicago's most loathed rival.

Fans want more offense, and they haven't been shy with their complaints.

"They're playing good football and that's the thing that you always look at," said Tampa Bay coach Tony Dungy, whose Buccaneers visit Soldier Field on Sunday.

"When you're playing good ball, then things will come. ... I know the fans and the players want to see points scored, but I always think the wins are the most important thing."

With nine wins and four games left, Chicago is already guaranteed a winning season. A victory over Tampa Bay (7-5) on Sunday would clinch a playoff spot.

Yet the lack of offense has been a hot topic this week. Defensive players and Bears offensive coordinator John Shoop had a heated exchange on the sidelines at Green Bay last weekend after Chicago failed repeatedly to score in the red zone.

The Bears all say the incident was no big deal, and Dungy agreed.

"Everyone wants it to be artistic and look the way that they feel like it should look," he said. "And sometimes it doesn't always look that way. Sometimes the big thing in the NFL is persevering and winning those tight games. Chicago has played a lot of close games and won every close game they've been in."

That doesn't mean the Bears are ignoring their offensive woes. They know as well as anyone they need to score more points.

They're averaging 19.5 points per game, 16th in the league. That's been good enough to get them nine wins, but it's probably not going to cut it in the playoffs. They're converting only 34 percent of their third-down chances, and have made just one out of 42 from 10 yards or more.

Offense not helping

"The obvious thing is that we haven't really been able to put up points and help our defense out," running back James Allen said. "Those are just things we've got to get corrected. We've got four games left and obviously we know we have to put up more points and definitely keep those guys fresh."

Part of the criticism has been the Bears deep game. Or lack of one. Since Marty Booker caught touchdown passes of 28, 44 and 66 yards in a 27-24 victory over Tampa Bay last month, the Bears haven't had much luck with the long ball.

Last week against the Packers, Miller's longest pass went just 14 yards. The week before, in a victory over Detroit, it was 19 yards.

"We've been getting deep, we just haven't been executing," Booker said. "It's all about executing. Pitch and catch. Playing a little football. And that's what we haven't been doing.

"You've got to put points on the board if you want to be a contender, and that's what we need to do."

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