On paper, this was a game that the Bears didn't win.
With a total of only 210 yards, just 14 pass completions, and decidedly less time of possession than the Packers, Monday night wasn't the offense's finest hour. But somehow, in an overtime game played in arctic conditions and distinguished by one of the more bizarre coin tosses in NFL history, a horse-collar penalty and a clutch field goal, Chicago came out on top 20-17.
"Amazing," said Bears offensive coordinator Ron Turner in the Soldier Field locker room after the game. "There were so many times we struggled, that things just didn't seem to be going right for us. But when that happened, special teams would step up, the defense would play stronger, [and] we'd get some sort of decent play. But, overall, all I can say is that it was an overall display of guts and heart."
That and some surprising luck near the end of a season that has been marked by radical ups and downs on the field.
Who guessed that the Bears' opener would feature a win over the Colts? Then who expected the Bears to deflate against the Vikings in a must-win situation?
But against Green Bay in prime time, there was no room for error if any hopes for the playoffs were to stay alive.
"To say this was a must-win for us would be an understatement," said Greg Olsen after the game. "We went in knowing what had to happen, and somehow we found a way to pull it off. I can't say enough about our guys – special teams, defense, offense, and don't forget the fans. They were with us in extremely difficult conditions all night. Just looking up and seeing them there in the stands gave us a lot of encouragement."
Sunday's games across the league had at least given the Bears a chance. Upsets of the Vikings, Eagles, Cowboys and Cardinals had opened the door just enough. The Packers had been erratic of late but could strike if given the opportunity, as the Week 11 37-3 drubbing of Chicago at Lambeau Field had demonstrated all too well.
"To say that our season was on the line would have been an understatement," Olsen said. "Playing Green Bay always involves high levels of emotions, but this was even more intense than that."
Unlike earlier games this year, the Bears did not get off the bus running. Or passing. Or doing much offensively at all. Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers, on the other hand, looked at times like a young Brett Favre as he moved his team down the field.
When Chicago got the ball, the usually formidable Matt Forte struggled with runs of just a yard or two. A lack of capable receivers was also painfully apparent, as Marty Booker, Devin Hester, and anybody else anywhere near a Kyle Orton pass seemed unable to make a play.
"So frustrating," said Olsen, who ended up leading the team with five receptions for 49 yards and a touchdown, including a crucial 15-yard overtime grab that helped set up Robbie Gould's game-winning 38-yard field goal.
The temperature got down to just 2 degrees at one point in the ballgame, a record low for the franchise since numbers started being kept in 1963, and the wind chill was well below zero. But neither Olsen nor Turner used the extreme climate conditions as an excuse for the offensive struggles.
"It was cold out there, sure," Olsen said, "but the Packers were on the same field. They got a pretty good passing game going. We should have had a lot of those plays."
By the end of the first half, the Bears managed just three points on a 31-yarder by Gould. The Packers scored two TDs in the second quarter, as Rodgers racked up 176 yards passing before intermission. Chicago was outgained 221-48 in the first 30 minutes of action.
"We didn't make any particular halftime adjustments," Turner said. "We just knew we needed to execute better. It was a struggle for us during the entire game and something we will definitely address in practice this week."
Orton posted a passer rating of just 48.7 and was intercepted twice, but the Bears finally put together a drive in the fourth quarter when the rookie Forte came to life after being dormant for three periods.
"We struggled to get the passing and the running game going," Olsen said. "It wasn't happening until we got that clutch drive near the end of the fourth quarter that got Matt into the end zone. Once we tied, we felt that we had a very good chance of pulling this one out."
"Then it was back to business for us," Turner said of his offense's mindset immediately thereafter.
Overtime. An errant coin toss from the referee's frozen fingers bounced off of captain Brian Urlacher's helmet and onto the turf. Bears ball.
Orton's first play was a short pass near the left sideline to Olsen for a modest gain, but the defender was called for a horse-collar tackle at the end of the play. The 17-yard pass and subsequent 15-yard penalty put the Bears in prime position. Orton hit Forte three plays later for a 14-gain on a pass to the right flat, moving Chicago down to the Green Bay 22.
On third down, Gould lined up again for a 38-yard attempt. Good as Gould. Bears win. Playoff dreams intact.
"I don't remember much about those last few minutes," Olsen said. "I do remember the catch but not the penalty. There was such urgency. Our season was on the line and that we simply had to win. When Robbie put it through, there was tremendous relief. Our team had come together, and we did what we had to do. It's something that will stay with me for a long time to come."
Turner agreed with his star-in-the-making's sentiment.
"Sometimes," he said, "what comes out of a game is so much more than the stats you'll read the next day. This game was about heart and desire. The guys had that to spare."
Beth Gorr has been covering the Chicago Bears for eight years and is the author of Bear Memories: The Chicago-Green Bay Rivalry. She is currently working on a second book about early Bears history.
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