- The Washington Times - Friday, October 19, 2001

Although it hasn't attracted much attention, the Chicago Bears are off to their best start since 1991. After losing an opening struggle at Baltimore, the Bears have won three straight for the first time in six years. The defense has allowed just 43 points in four games. Coach Dick Jauron has finally settled on Jim Miller as his quarterback. And with Sammy Sosa done slamming until springtime, Da Bears are the big sports story in Chicago again.
"We're so much better than we were two years ago," said Jauron, 11-21 during his first two seasons. "It's too early to tell how good we're going to be, but I love the way we've started out."
Jauron could have been speaking abut his best player, second-year middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, who's already the heart of the Bears, as were Hall of Fame predecessors Bill George (1952-1965), Dick Butkus (1965-1973) and Mike Singletary (1981-1992). Urlacher, Chicago's top pick last year, was the 2000 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
"The leadership role that Brian has taken so quickly has probably surprised all of us, but the guys look to him," said linebackers coach Dale Lindsey. "When it's Brian's turn to make a play, he makes it. And then he'll make another play when it's not his turn."
Urlacher is just one of the good, young players for the Bears, who have just four starters remaining right guard Chris Villarial, right tackle James Williams, cornerback Walt Harris and strong safety Tony Parrish from the 4-12 team Jauron inherited in 1999. Receivers Marcus Robinson and Marty Booker have stolen the spotlight from top choice David Terrell. Rookie halfback Anthony Thomas is threatening to unseat James Allen, a 1,000-yard rusher last year. Outside linebackers Warrick Holdman and Roosevelt Colvin complement Urlacher nicely. Mike Brown and Parrish are a fine safety tandem while R.W. McQuarters might finally be showing why San Francisco drafted him in the first round in 1998.
Even though Jauron and his staff were under pressure to win this year, they gave up on quarterback Cade McNown this summer, dispatching the 1999 first-rounder to Miami. When opening day starter Shane Matthews was hurt, Miller who had started just six games in seven years with Pittsburgh and Chicago took over.
"Jim gives us a little pizzazz, and the players really like him," Lindsey said.
While happy to be winning, the Bears know they're very much a work in progress. They're 29th in yards and 28th in rushing. The defense is seventh against the run but 26th against the pass. Chicago has faced only one NFC Central foe (in the Sept. 23 upset of Minnesota). Seven of its final nine games are in the division, including trips to Tampa Bay, Minnesota and Green Bay in a four-week stretch.
"After two straight losing seasons and with our contracts expiring, we knew that we were on the hot seat," Lindsey said. "We're glad to be 3-1, but we also know that we haven't accomplished anything yet."
Trivia time Who holds the Bears' season record for touchdown passes? (Answer below.)
Didn't take long Cincinnati's top draft choice, defensive end Justin Smith, held out for 50 days before signing on the eve of the Sept. 9 season opener. But after adding his second sack last week against Cleveland to his eight tackles the week before at Pittsburgh, Smith has been promoted into the starting lineup for Sunday's game with the Bears.
"Justin makes your team a little quicker and faster out there," Bengals player personnel director Jim Lippincott said of the former Missouri star. "On the sack he had [last week], it looked like he was shot out of a gun."
Ramming speed St. Louis visits the New York Jets on Sunday with hopes of joining Green Bay (1929-1931) and Minnesota (1973-1975) as the only teams to put together three straight 6-0 starts. St. Louis went 7-3 and won the Super Bowl after its 6-0 start in 1999 but finished up just 4-6 last season and was bounced from the playoffs by New Orleans in the wild-card round.
If the Rams, who squeaked by the New York Giants 15-14 last week, are to get to 6-0 this time, they might well have to do so without NFL MVP Marshall Faulk. The swift halfback bruised his right knee against the Giants, and coach Mike Martz is inclined to rest him and go with 2000 first-rounder Trung Canidate, who kept the winning drive going last week with a catch on fourth-and-4 and then scored the winning touchdown.
"We'll be fine with Trung," Martz said. "We'll continue to do the things we do."
Keep it on the ground, Kordell The Steelers are 13-7 when quarterback Kordell Stewart throws for fewer than 200 yards and runs for more than 30. They are 3-6 when he throws for more than 200 and runs for fewer than 30.
Trivia answer Erik Kramer threw 29 touchdown passes for the 1995 Bears.


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