Chicago's David Terrell goes up against three Browns defenders for Shane Matthews' Hail Mary pass.
CHICAGO - The odds were incalculable. Down 14 points with less than 2:00 to play, 80 yards from the end zone with a quarterback who had been occasionally productive but mostly bad from the start.
And to win. Again. Two weeks in a row.
Nobody can seem to stick a fork in the Chicago Bears. Talk about resurrecting a franchise. This one truly comes back from the dead.
The Bears numbed, stunned and stupified the Cleveland Browns yesterday, much as they did the San Francisco 49ers seven days earlier, scoring on a Mike Brown interception return in overtime for a 27-21 victory at Soldier Field.
One minute the Browns are 5-2 and tied for first place in the AFC Central, then suddenly they are none of the above. Blink and you may have missed it.
Chicago scored two touchdowns in the final 28 seconds of regulation, the second on a Hail Mary pass that followed a successful scrum on an onside kick.
Then, in overtime, Toledo product Bryan Robinson batted a Tim Couch pass high into the air. Brown, one of the NFL's premier free safeties, hauled it in and hardly touched the ground while jetting 16 yards into the end zone as a bad case of bedlam broke out on the field and in the stands at this venerable old park that now, officially, has seen it all.
Of course, it saw about the same thing last week when Brown stole a juggled pass from San Francisco's Terrell Owens and went 33 yards for an overtime TD. The Bears had trailed by as many as 19 points in that one.
“It seems fitting that a Brown killed the Browns,” Robinson said. “Man, they've got to be hurting right now.”
“We had our heart ripped out,” said Cleveland coach Butch Davis, who knows a thing or two about Hail Mary passes.
But it wasn't Doug Flutie this time. It was Shane Matthews, starting at quarterback for the Bears only because of an injury to Jim Miller. Matthews fumbled a ball that Cleveland turned into a touchdown and threw three interceptions and generally was as good a reason as any that the Bears trailed 21-7.
Couch was another reason, stepping up to deliver some big plays in the second half, including touchdown passes of three yards to halfback Mike Sellers and 55 yards to Kevin Johnson.
Cleveland defensive end Courtney Brown was another reason, playing for the first time this season and turning in what was likely the finest game of his career. He had seven tackles, three sacks, deflected two passes, forced one fumble and recovered another. The latter came on the second play of the game when a blitzing Wali Rainer sacked Matthews and jarred the ball loose. Brown picked it up and lumbered 25 yards for a touchdown.
But Matthews got the last laugh, not to mention a career-best 357 yards on a 30-completion day.
With one pass ruled complete on a challenge and another not ruled incomplete when the replay official in the press box failed to notify the referee of a review before the next play was snapped, Matthews drove the Bears 80 yards and found Marty Booker from nine yards out for a TD that pulled Chicago within 21-14 with 28 seconds left.
The Bears then executed a big-bounce onside kick that any one of 11 guys in blue shirts recovered. The official play-by-play credited the recovery to reserve linebacker Bobbie Howard. It appeared Jerry Azumah was the Bear who went high to snag the ball out of the air. Chicago coach Dick Jauron thought Autry Denson got it.
“On an onside kick, you get that big pile of bodies and the ball changes hands a lot under there,” Jauron said. “There's no telling how many times it changed hands.”
With 0:08 left, the Bears were on the Cleveland 34. Matthews faded back and hurled a pass and a prayer to the end zone. Booker and David Terrell were his targets. Percy Ellsworth, Corey Fuller and Devin Bush were all there for the Browns. Ellsworth batted at the ball and it floated in the air, almost in slow motion, before running back James Allen dived to make the stunning catch.
“I've never felt this bad after a game,” said Couch. “It's really tough. When you're up 21-7 with, what, 30 seconds to go, you feel like you've got the game won.”
Not against the Bears. Not in Soldier Field. Not this year.