CHICAGO (AP) – Robbie Gould salvaged the win, and the Chicago Bears may have salvaged their season.
Gould kicked a 39-yard field goal in overtime, and the defending NFC champions gave their flickering playoff hopes a boost with a 37-34 victory over the Denver Broncos on Sunday.
After scoring two touchdowns in the final 5:17 of regulation, the Bears (5-6) won the coin toss to start overtime. They drove from their 24 to the Denver 18, where Rex Grossman took a knee. Gould then came in and delivered the game-winner, 3:41 into OT, bringing a dramatic game to a finish.
The Bears got two long touchdown returns from Devin Hester in the second half, but still seemed headed toward a loss until Adrian Peterson and Bernard Berrian scored in the closing minutes.
Denver (5-6) was up 34-20 early in the fourth quarter after an acrobatic 14-yard touchdown catch by Tony Scheffler, but the Bears weren't finished.
Charles Tillman blocked a punt and Brandon McGowan recovered, giving Chicago the ball on the Broncos' 18. That led to a 4-yard touchdown run by Peterson, who was pushed in by his teammates in a scrum. More drama followed.
With their playoff hopes perhaps hanging by a thread, the Bears tied it with 28 seconds left in regulation on a 3-yard catch by Berrian that figures to show up on highlight reels. Berrian spun away from Champ Bailey and lunged to catch the pass from Grossman on the right side of the end zone, his right foot dragging as his left knee hit the ground in bounds.
That capped a 65-yard drive that Denver's Dre' Bly kept alive with an illegal contact penalty on fourth down at the Chicago 36. Grossman connected with Rashied Davis and Muhsin Muhammad for 21 and 13-yard completions, respectively, that helped set up the touchdown.
The Bears managed to stay in the game despite inopportune penalties, a few breakdowns on defense and the loss of another key player to an injury – Cedric Benson.
They can thank Hester they were still in it. He returned five punts for 81 yards and five kickoffs for 151.
TE Desmond Clark
Nam Y. Huh/AP Images
With his team trailing 13-6 and desperately needing a spark, he provided a few. After fielding the ball at the 25 early in the third quarter, Hester turned up the left side and leapfrogged two defenders on his way to the end zone. It was the ninth time the second-year pro took a kick all the way, breaking Gale Sayers' club record, and his sixth career punt return for a TD.
Still, he wasn't finished.
Cecil Sapp had just scored on a 5-yard run to give the Broncos a 20-13 lead with 2:38 left in the third when Hester struck again. This time, he did it on the kickoff.
Hester burst through the middle and ran it back 88 yards, sidestepping lunging kicker Todd Sauerbrun. It was the fourth time he returned a kickoff for a touchdown in his career.
Denver had a quick answer on that one.
Jay Cutler immediately connected with Brandon Marshall, who beat Ricky Manning for a 68-yard touchdown that put the Broncos ahead 27-20 with 2:11 left in the quarter.
Cutler followed a solid performance in Monday's 14-point win over Tennessee with another good outing. He completed 17 of 31 passes for 302 yards. He had two touchdowns and one interception.
Scheffler caught five of those passes for 82 yards, and Andre Hall had a decent game filling in for injured running backs Travis Henry and Selvin Young. He carried 26 times for 98 yards and scored a touchdown.
It was not a good day for Benson (eight attempts, 47 yards).
He struggled in the first quarter and left after injuring his left ankle at the end of a 21-yard run early in the second.
Grossman was also a bit shaky in his second start since returning to the lineup.
He was 17-of-33 with 193 yards thanks to several dropped passes. He had a touchdown and an interception in his first appearance at Soldier Field since a meltdown against Dallas in the third game that led to his benching.
All of that plus much more in the January issue of ...
BEAR REPORT, the only publication exclusively dedicated to your Chicago Bears ... CLICK HERE to subscribe today