Veteran quarterback performing well for Bears

Updated: November 6, 2003, 8:21 PM ET
ESPN

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- When he was a kid, Justin Gage used to watch Chris Chandler and marvel at how smooth the quarterback was. Never did he think he'd get to play with Chandler.

"I always thought his days were going to be done before I even had the chance to make it to the NFL," Gage said.

No offense to Chandler, of course. It's just that Gage, a rookie wide receiver with the Chicago Bears, was all of 7 when Chandler threw his first NFL pass. Who would ever have thought Chandler would still be hanging around 15 years later, at age 38?

"When a guy's 38 years old, you pretty much think, `Oh, that's it.' But this guy, he's resurrected again," Bears guard Chris Villarrial said. "He's playing great right now, and it's fun to watch."

When Chicago signed Chandler two years ago, he was supposed to be a backup, an experienced insurance policy in case someone got hurt. But he's rescued the Bears from their dismal start under Kordell Stewart -- and rejuvenated his own career in the process.

The Bears are still only 3-5. But they have a two-game winning streak under Chandler and look better every week he's on the field. Chicago plays at Detroit (2-6) on Sunday.

"I know I feel better every time out. I feel a lot more comfortable, that's for sure," Chandler said. "I think anybody who plays week-in, week-out, regardless of their experience level, you do feel better the more you're out on the field, and I'm no different."

Chandler is one of the NFL's most enduring quarterbacks. Drafted by the Colts out of Washington in 1988, he's started for seven NFL teams. He's thrown for 1,000 yards or more in 11 of his first 15 seasons, including the last nine straight, and is on pace to make it 12. He's a two-time Pro Bowler, and he led Atlanta to its only Super Bowl appearance in 1998.

He's also suffered five concussions, including one that kept him out of last year's season finale. At 38, no one would have blamed Chandler for hanging up his helmet. But there he is on the field, running around with a bunch of guys 15 years younger.

"Not at all," he said when asked if he ever feels old. "I feel pretty young around all of these guys. It's a pretty young team, and it's a lot of fun with a lot of the guys in the locker room.

"I don't buy into the number," he added. "I feel good. That's all I can say."

And if Chandler can keep playing like this, why not? His numbers aren't spectacular -- he's 61-of-97 for 588 yards with one touchdown and four interceptions -- and his quarterback rating is only 66.

But the offense is playing with greater poise under Chandler, and the Bears are beginning to show a swagger they haven't had in months.

"He's starting to throw his weight around in there, and that's what you need," Villarrial said. "Your quarterback is your leader. You need him to lead, and he's been doing it and it feels good."

Though leading receiver Marty Booker sat out the last three games with a sprained ankle, the Bears have upgraded their passing under Chandler. He's used eight receivers, and Gage and fellow rookie Bobby Wade are flourishing under him.

Gage was inactive for the first five games. Pushed onto the field in Chandler's first start because of injuries, he has 136 yards receiving and one touchdown in the last three games.

Wade has caught seven passes from Chandler for 92 yards.

"It really is like having a coach on the field," Gage said. "He knows everything that's going on, and when gametime comes around, it's like he already has the game played out in his head. ... He's going to tell you what you need to do, where you need to do it.

"And he's ready for any questions you have to ask him," Gage added. "When you have somebody like that running your team, you feel real comfortable."

As for that age difference, Gage just laughed. Chandler may have gray in his hair, but he can still hang with the youngsters.

"He relates to us well," Gage said. "We keep him young."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index