The Bears improved their season record with a decisive 20-13 win over the New York Jets in Champaign. The game was distinguished by a steady performance from quarterback Chris Chandler, a determined and aggressive Bears offensive line, and strong play from rookies Adrian Peterson, Travis Coleman, John Gilmore and Ro Williams.
"This was the type of situation where more often than not this season, we have ended up on the short end of the stick," Chandler said. "This time, things seemed to go our way. Leon Johnson, Dez White, and Marty Booker made some great plays. The line held well and gave me plenty of time to throw. Believe me, there is nothing better than having the time and the points in your favor to end the game by taking a knee."
Chandler cited the play of the offensive line as being pivotal in the Bear’s success.
"I just can’t say enough about them," Chandler said. "It’s been a tough season for these players. Players we depend on have gone out with injuries. New guys have come in. It’s been hard to get communication going at times; we talked among ourselves during the week as well as before the game. I said "hey guys, I’ll be counting on you. We all need to be aggressive. We can win this one if we stay on the field and keep control of the ball."
Chandler’s pep talk seemed to have paid off handsomely as the Bears totaled
177 passing yards, and 105 rushing yards. Marty Booker had 9 catches for 62 yards, Dez White had 4 catches for 28 yards, and John Gilmore totaled 3 catches for 28 yards.
Leon Johnson ended the game with 56 total rushing yards and rookie running back Adrian Peterson surprised the Jets with 39 rushing yards including his first NFL touchdown.
"I was really pleased with our team today," said Bears head coach Dick Jauron. "I felt that every player moved his level up just enough to get this job done. Both Adrian and Ro Williams will be getting awards this week. Adrian for his first touchdown, and Ro for his pass interception during the last minute of the game."
Williams received the starting nod because R.W. McQuarters was inactive with a hip injury, which he suffered late in the week.
Jerry Azumah went down early in the second half with a head injury leaving rookie DB Travis Coleman to play the majority of the games final 30 minutes.
"It was strange in a way being out on the field with the other rookies," Coleman said. "I looked at Ro Williams and I knew that we were thinking the same thing. We knew how long it had taken to get here, and that we were going to give this our best shot. Opportunities like this are few and far between for new players in the NFL. When the chance to start comes to you, you want to make the best of it. We definitely were ready for this opportunity."
Jauron felt that having a number of lineup changes throughout the season could have some unexpected advantages as the team looks forward to 2003.
"For these new players it is the best of all possible situations," Jauron said.
"They are getting game experience which is necessary to their development.
One of the reasons that so many of them are now in our starting lineup is that we have lost many veterans to injuries. At times it felt as if we were changing our starters on a daily basis. That can be tough on any team."
But the win over the Jets helped the coach to see an upside to a sometimes tumultuous season.
"In the long run I do think that this will work out best for the team," Jauron continued." Obviously we saw a lot in our rookies when the draft was taking place last spring. We saw good things from them in training camp. Now we know how well they will do in game situations. We’ll be heading to the new season in 2003 with the return of our starters, and we’ll have a seasoned group of former rookies as well."
Veteran Bears kicker Paul Edinger continued his run of strong performances in recent games with 2 field goals, one from 53 yards in the second quarter, and a second from 48 yards in the fourth.
"I was confident that I could make both of those kicks," Edinger said. "It’s what I practice all of the time. Luckily the wind wasn’t too much of a factor today. It was blowing a little bit in the first half, then it seemed to shift and diminish somewhat as we near the end of the game. Every kicker will tell you that there is nothing better than a long kick. Making that kind of a play is what we live for."