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Bears QB has the number that matters: 9 victories

By DARRELL FRY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 15, 2001

Look at his statistics and the first reaction is to yawn.

More interceptions than touchdowns. A completion rate of less than 60 percent. Sixteen-hundred yards.

Frankly, there are high school quarterbacks with better numbers than the Bears' Jim Miller.

"You know what stat that he has that's very impressive? The win column," Bucs defensive end Steve White said of Miller, whose team is 9-3. "And that's the only one that matters, really. I mean, he could have 3,000 yards passing and no wins, and who'll care?"

With a decent arm, mediocre scrambling ability and little durability, Miller nevertheless is finding ways to beat defenses and lead the Bears from futility to prosperity. He is 8-2 as a starter this season and 10-5 overall with the Bears, the Bucs on Sunday at Soldier Field.

Miller is, as Bucs safety John Lynch playfully suggested, from the Trent Dilfer School of Quarterbacking, meaning he never gets mistaken for Brett Favre or Steve McNair. What Miller has are those things the casual observer misses.

Instincts. Knowledge of defenses. Accuracy. And a brain surgeon's approach to his work that gives the Bears a chance to win every Sunday.

To that end, he rarely throws 30 or more passes in a game. His 1,600 passing yards rank 29th in the league. Compare that with Bills backup Alex Van Pelt, who has played in three games but has only 175 fewer passing yards than Miller.

Or to Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, who has nearly twice as many passing yards and touchdowns as Miller.

Then compare this: Manning's and Van Pelt's teams are a combined 6-18, while Miller's is one of the best in the NFC.

"He's got a lot of savvy, a lot of moxie. Just a type of guy who is a winner," White said of Miller, who was 5-for-16 for 63 yards in his worst game of the season, yet led the Bears to a 37-31 win against the 49ers. "Sometimes you can't even quantify what a winner is. He just is what he is. Maybe it's just being accurate this time. Maybe it's just avoiding the rush this time. Maybe it's making the right check this time. Whatever he does, he puts them in a good position to win on any given play. So, he's just a winner."

Miller, 30, hears praise like that and shrugs it off without a second thought. That might seem odd, but Miller hasn't exactly had a lot of practice being a winner.

He wasn't drafted until the sixth round in 1994. And even after that, he rarely was used, riding the bench in Pittsburgh, Jacksonville and Atlanta before arriving in Chicago in 1998, where he again was promptly handed a clipboard.

He got on the field at times the past two seasons only after injuries to the starters. He dazzled when he was in the game, but he couldn't stay healthy long enough to stay on the field.

Last season he played well in relief of injured starter Cade McNown until he was injured (ruptured Achilles' tendon), ending his season. And he has missed two games this season with a bruised hip. His start Sunday against the Packers was his fifth straight, the first time in his career he has made more than four consecutive starts.

But clearly, the more Miller is on the field, the better the Bears' chances of winning are.

"Jim is a natural leader. He comes into the huddle, and it isn't so much that he demands respect as much as he commands it and deserves it," Bears tackle James Williams told the Chicago Tribune. "Jim is the type of person who comes up to the line and knows everything the offensive line is supposed to do, everything the receivers are supposed to do, and the backs. And his own job. How can you not respect a man like that?"

Miller's conservative style has been constricted even more lately, along with the offense. In Chicago's past three games (Minnesota, Detroit and Green Bay), he is averaging 120 passing yards, and has no touchdown passes and two interceptions.

The Bears have won two of those three, but haven't scored more than 13 points in any of them.

"We've got a certain formula for winning here. We're going to grind it out and run the football," Miller said. "We struggled against Green Bay and Detroit. I think we just didn't execute that well against Detroit, and I think it was the same for Green Bay as well."

Miller insists he and the Chicago "dink and dunk" offense have plenty of fire, which nobody should have tell the Bucs. When the Tampa Bay hosted Chicago this season, Miller had three long touchdown passes to receiver Marty Booker in a 27-24 win.

Miller said the Bears' paltry numbers the past three weeks are merely a product of their methodical game plan, which may look ugly at times, but continues to win.

Just like Miller.

"They're not asking him to win it all," Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks said. "What they're asking him to do is keep them in a position to win, and that's what he's doing."

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