LAKE FOREST, ILL., JAN. 4 -- The Bears fled Chicagoland today, hopping a 2 p.m. bus to balmy South Bend, Ind., where an indoor facility awaited.

Practice may not be peaceful, though, since the Bears are, as usual, hounding each other prior to Sunday's NFC semifinal against the Washington Redskins at Soldier Field.

Coach Mike Ditka made nine lineup changes before Chicago's final game against the Los Angeles Raiders, and the team reacted by scoring all of six points.

At one point, Ditka held a private meeting with benched linebacker Otis Wilson, and the way Wilson tells it, Ditka said Wilson was through playing football. Consequently, the Bears aren't exactly waltzing into the playoffs.

Still, there was some better news today for Chicago when, as expected, trainer Fred Caito listed quarterback Jim McMahon as probable for Sunday's game. McMahon has missed three straight games with a hamstring injury, but Ditka apparently plans on starting him. Also, tackle Jim Covert, bothered by ankle and shoulder injuries, is expected to start.

"The main thing is we need them to play as close to 100 percent as possible," Ditka said today. "If not, we're better off playing other people, but I think they'll both play."

The Bears have won 29 of the last 30 games McMahon started, so there's something magical with him around. On the other hand, injuries up front (besides Covert, center Jay Hilgenberg has shoulder and elbow problems) mean McMahon could be running for his life.

Ditka admitted McMahon doesn't have his usual burst of speed and added: "We're not going to say we're going to be able to avoid every sack. So sometimes, if you have to to take a sack, take it. Or throw the ball away or do the things that everybody else does in the league and not run with the ball.

"If {McMahon} will just resign himself to the fact that he'll be limited moving around as much as he'd like to, then I think we'll be fine. But then again, by Sunday he might be able to move as good as he ever has."

One of the many men chasing McMahon Sunday will be Redskins defensive end Dexter Manley, who found out today that Ditka can throw stones as well as chewing gum.

Word got back to Ditka today that Manley had called him a "bum" for hitting a San Francisco 49ers fan with a wad of green chewing gum. First of all, Ditka's wife, Diana, claims he never threw it ("He doesn't chew green gum," she said. "He chews Red Man."). Secondly, Manley says he never called Ditka anything, and certainly not a "bum."

Nevertheless, Ditka had this to say about Manley on WGN radio: "The only one thing you have to understand is that Dexter has the IQ of a grapefruit."

And Manley responded: "All I say is always consider the source."

A straight-faced Ditka revealed his game plan today. "All we're gonna do is run the ball," he said. "{McMahon} won't have any problem handing off."

Anyway, mobile doesn't always make a difference, as former Bears quarterback Doug Flutie can testify. Ditka admits people "blamed" last year's 27-13 playoff loss to the Redskins on "the little guy," and he said today: "The easy way out in life is to point your finger at somebody else."

More precisely, Ditka thinks the Bears lost that game on turnovers (Chicago committed four), and that's been a carry-over into this season. The Bears are a minus-20 on the giveaway, takeaway ratio and have started their last 56 drives inside their own territory.

Somehow, they still finished 11-4.

Basically, Ditka played the watch-what-you-say game today, excluding his Manley quote. Asked if the Bears can win the Super Bowl, he said: "We'll give it a try." Asked again, he said: "I think we can win it all. But I'm the only one that thinks that, evidently."

One school of thought has the Bears with an advantage Sunday because they lost to the Redskins last year and want revenge. Ditka said: "Well, let me tell you something. When you're in the playoffs, if that's not enough motivation for you, then you shouldn't be in them. You shouldn't play the game. Revenge means nothing in this game."

A year ago, Redskins quarterback Jay Schroeder was glad the Bears blitzed, and he threw two touchdown passes to Art Monk with defenders converging on him. This time, Doug Williams is the starter, and Ditka sees it as little difference.

"{Williams} will move around better, of course, than some quarterbacks, and he's strong," Ditka said. "You're not going to knock Doug down with one hand, but you're not going to knock Schroeder down with one hand, either. {Schroeder's} a big strong kid, and he threw the ball exceptionally well against us last year, and I'm sure if they need him, he'll play."

Six of Ditka's nine lineup changes came on defense, where Ron Rivera replaced Wilson at linebacker, Maurice Douglass replaced Mike Richardson at cornerback, Gary Fencik replaced Todd Bell at safety and Al Harris moved in as a starter on the interior line ahead of William (The Refrigerator) Perry. Also, Dan Hampton moved over from defensive end to defensive tackle, and Dave Duerson moved from free safety to strong safety.

All six changes will continue Sunday. The weather should improve, though. Today the wind-chill factor here was minus 50 and the long-range forecast is a warming trend for 20 degrees.