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There was a distinct chill in the Bears' locker room after their crushing 16-10 loss to the Bengals on Sunday at Riverfront Stadium, and it had nothing to do with the subfreezing temperatures (10° at kickoff) in which the game was played. Almost to a man, the players dressed in silence, their backs turned to the media—and to each other. Said quarterback Erik Kramer, "There comes a point where people have to take it upon themselves to get the job done, and we just didn't take care of our individual responsibilities."
Who was Kramer talking about? Well, as Claude Rains put it in Casablanca, "Round up the usual suspects." In a game they desperately needed to win, against a Bengal defense that ranks last in the league, the Bears displayed all the flaws that have been responsible for one of the league's most shocking meltdowns. The team that started 6-2 and seemed a cinch for the postseason will take a 7-7 record into this Sunday's game against the Buccaneers at Soldier Field, and its playoff hopes are fast becoming as remote as the chances of Christopher Darden having Johnnie Cochran over for Christmas dinner. "We keep getting fumbles or turnovers from guys we were counting on," said coach Dave Wannstedt.
•Rookie Todd Sauerbrun. The second-round draft pick, whose lame punts and kickoffs have given opponents good field position all season, had another bad day. With 3:41 remaining in the third quarter and the Bears trailing only 9-3, Sauerbrun's punt was partially blocked by Roger Jones. The kick traveled 14 yards, to the Bear 38, and on the next play Cincinnati's Jeff Blake connected with wideout Darnay Scott for a touchdown. Sauerbrun, whose 30.5-yard average for six punts was well below his league-low 38.8-yard season average, pointed the finger at his protection. "That guy [Jones] walked right in," he said.
•Rookie running back Rashaan Salaam. The 1994 Heisman Trophy winner, who in prior games had lost three fumbles that led to opponents' field goals, coughed up the ball at the Bengal 48 with 4:45 left. The Bengals ran almost a minute off the clock before punting to pin the Bears back at their own 19. "This late in the season, you hate to say it's a rookie mistake," Wannstedt said. Sadly for Salaam, the fumble marred an otherwise good day in which he gained 105 yards on 22 carries and scored his seventh touchdown, equaling Walter Payton's TD total as a rookie in 1975.
•A Bear offense that failed to execute under the gun. For the sixth time this season Chicago squandered a chance to win or tie on its final possession. This time, facing a fourth-and-five at the Bear 48 with 1:39 remaining, offensive coordinator Ron Turner sent in the same play he had called in a virtually identical situation in a Sept. 24 loss to the Rams—a route over the middle by Curtis Conway that was supposed to be run beyond the first-down marker. But just as he did against the Rams, Conway caught the ball a yard short. He was tackled immediately, and the Bears surrendered possession and their last hope of winning.
"This is déjà vu from the Rams' game," Wannstedt said.
"Same play, same result," Kramer said.
Did Conway run the route too short?