In a very sloppy preseason opener, the Chicago Bears did just enough things right.
The Bears overcame 19 penalties for 160 yards in Lovie Smith's head coaching debut and homecoming in a 13-10 overtime victory over the St. Louis Rams
on Thursday night. The opening drive was short-circuited by four penalties and the Bears had been hit for 105 yards by halftime.
"You can't have that many penalties, we realize that," Smith said. "But we were able to get the win some kind of way."
Ahmad Merritt returned the overtime kickoff 87 yards to the 7 to set up Paul Edinger's 25-yard winning field goal on the next play.
"Every game means a lot," Merritt said. "It doesn't matter if it's preseason or regular season or playoffs."
Smith was the defensive coordinator the last three years for the Rams, helping them reach the Super Bowl in 2001, and received a nice ovation during
pregame introductions. He was hired by the Bears in January to replace Dick Jauron following a 7-9 season.
Penalties were not a problem last year for the Bears, who averaged 50 yards in calls per game. Smith said most of the calls were mental mistakes.
"I think most penalties are concentration lapses," Smith said. "It's not like the crowd was forcing us to jump offsides."
The Rams also stumbled with 12 penalties for 80 yards. Plus they had the only two turnovers, including a fumble after a reception by Dane Looker with
2:30 left in regulation to give the Bears the ball at the Chicago 29.
There were five penalties on the Bears' tying drive, four against Chicago. The drive was capped by a 1-yard pass from backup Jonathan Quinn to Gabe
Reid with 10:04 to go. So the Bears actually gained 118 yards on the 88-yard, 10-play drive.
The Rams were without Marshall Faulk, who rarely plays until late in the preseason, and offensive tackles Orlando Pace and Kyle Turley. Pace is a
contract holdout and Turley hasn't practiced since Aug. 1 due to a herniated disc in his surgically repaired back, although he attended the game in
St. Louis' makeshift line, a concern heading into the game, did a good job in pass protection and Marc Bulger was hit only twice. He was sacked once,
by Hunter Hillenmeyer, to force Jeff Wilkins' field goal on the last play of the first quarter. A third line starter, guard Adam Timmerman, started
despite being bothered by a stinger in his neck and shoulder in recent days.
"They came through fine," coach Mike Martz said. "The protection held up well."
The teams met on the field for the fourth time in eight days. The Bears traveled to Macomb, Ill., the Rams' training camp site, last week for three
days of joint practices and a scrimmage.
Backup Chris Chandler led the Rams to their only first-half score, a 13-yard pass to fullback Joey Goodspeed in the second quarter. Chandler was
8-for-9 for 108 yards in the second quarter, showing nimble feet on a couple of plays.
"He was running around a lot more than I thought he could," Bulger said. "We don't worry about a guy who's been around as long as he has."
His lone incompletion came when Eric Kelly took the ball out of Kevin Curtis' arms for an interception to stop a drive deep in Chicago territory in
the final minute of the first half.
Bulger played the first quarter and was 3-for-6 for 57 yards. Bears starter Rex Grossman also played one quarter and was 4-for-5 for 39 yards.
Thomas Jones had 53 yards on seven carries for the Bears. That included gains of 17 and 26 yards on consecutive plays on the opening drive. But a
holding call on center Josh Warren and a false start by wide receiver David Terrell forced Edinger to kick a 33-yard field goal. ^Notes: Rams
first-round pick draft Steven Jackson was impressive with 73 yards on 15 carries. ... Rams LB Pisa Tinoisamoa sprained his left ankle on Jones'
26-yard run in the first quarter and did not return. ... Bears OL Terrance Metcalf sprained his left ankle in the first quarter.