Sunday’s 27-24 overtime victory over the Baltimore Ravens served as a valuable reminder to Bears fans of the importance of all three phases of the game.
Today, on the 11-year anniversary of the night the Bears came back from a 20-point deficit at halftime to beat the Arizona Cardinals en route to a Super Bowl XLI appearance, it is more clear than ever of the importance of special teams.
In that fateful game more than a decade ago, the Bears’ offense was putrid, committed six turnovers, and needed to rely on a championship defense and dynamic special teams to earn the victory.
Fast forward to Sunday, and we all witnessed how both the Bears’ defense and offense (while not spectacular) played well enough to win the game in regulation, but their special teams nearly cost them a victory.
Playing with a comfortable 17-3 lead midway through the third quarter, the Bears had completely controlled the game up to that point. On the ensuing kickoff after a Mitch Trubisky touchdown pass, Ravens kick returner Bobby Rainey took a tumble to the ground and was presumed down by nearly all Bears special teamers. However, knowing that it was his own player who knocked him to the ground, Rainey got up and scampered the remaining 96 yards for a touchdown.
Replays showed that Bears receiver Josh Bellamy’s hand was awfully close to touching Rainey’s leg — which would have brought the ball back to that spot — but it was not conclusive evidence to overturn the call on the field of a touchdown.
Let this be a lesson to the Bears’ kickoff team to play until the whistle — or through the echo of the whistle, as football purists like to say.
Rainey’s score kept the game within a touchdown difference heading into the fourth quarter. A Justin Tucker field goal brought the Ravens to within four points, but that’s when the Bears’ defense stepped up again and came to the rescue.
Safety Adrian Amos picked off Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco on the Ravens’ next offensive possession and sprinted 90 yards for the touchdown, giving the Bears a comfortable 11-point lead with a little over five minutes to play.
The Bears dropped into soft coverage on the following Ravens possession in an effort to make Baltimore chew up the remaining clock. The defense held the Ravens to a 50-yard field goal attempt — which Tucker nailed because he’s one of, if not the best kicker in the game.
With just under three minutes to play and the ball in their possession, the Bears could have won the game with either their offense or the defense. The offense could have run the clock out or the defense could have made one more stand. Instead, the Bears punted and their special teams allowed the Ravens to score for the second time in the game, giving up a 77-yard punt return for a touchdown.
A two-point conversion tied the game and sent it into overtime.
After a couple exchanges of possession, the Bears run game took over, much the same way it did against Pittsburgh a few weeks ago. Running back Jordan Howard busted off a 53-yard run and Trubisky made a nice pass with the pocket collapsing, connecting with Kendall Wright to set the Bears up in field goal range.
A Connor Barth 40-yard field goal secured the win and the Bears escaped like thieves in the night.
Trubisky continues to take steps toward improving as a pro despite the talent around him. For the second straight week, he lost a fumble on a sack, but he took better care of the ball in not throwing any interceptions. He completed 8 of 16 passes for 113 yards and a well-placed touchdown to tight end Dion Sims. Perhaps most impressive was that throw in overtime to Wright which helped secure the win.
The Bears (2-4) sit two games behind Green Bay and Minnesota in the NFC North, although both teams own the tiebreaker over the Bears. Playoff talk is still farfetched and a foreign concept at this point, but with a Vikings team led by Case Keenum at quarterback and a Packers team that may have lost Aaron Rodgers for the season, the North may have just gotten a bit muddier.
If nothing else, I want the division race to at least appear as a carrot dangling in front of the Bears’ faces so that they stay hungry and focus on getting better each and every game. Not much would be worse for Trubisky’s development than if he was surrounded by players ready to mail it in for the season.