Memorable night, forgettable season
Bears' win over the Vikings gives fans a brief reprieve from doom and gloom
Sometimes, particularly when you've experienced the alternative too many times, it's best to focus on the positive, on this one game and this one victory.
Sometimes you can even flip off the television or radio, or make your way back to your car on a frigid Monday night that suddenly doesn't seem so cold, and actually feel good about your team.
When you root for the Bears, you've got that coming to you. You deserve it. And besides, you know that tomorrow it all comes rushing back.
Like how does a team that dropped six of the last seven games and was blown out by 20 or more points in four of its last nine suddenly summon it up against the playoff-bound, Brett Favre-led Minnesota Vikings and actually pull out a thrilling 36-30 overtime victory?
And what's more, if it's a complete makeover you advocate and this game saved the job of Bears' head coach Lovie Smith and at least some of his staff, which it very well could have, then is it even a good thing in the long run?
"I'm just proud of how we fought back," Bears receiver Devin Aromashodu said.
Aromashodu, who was either inactive or failed to catch a pass in 10 games this season, snared nine for 150 yards Monday night, including the 39-yard game-winner from Jay Cutler.
"Even though we're not playing for much, we're playing for ourselves and most of all, for our head coach," he said.
So was that it? Did the defense shut out the Vikings in the first half and limit Favre to 36 yards passing and Minnesota's offense to 82 yards total before halftime, because they were playing for their coach's job this week?
What then, should we make of the second half, when the Vikings scored on five straight possessions and tied the game at 30 with 16 second left to force overtime?
Then again, Bears' special teams blocked a Vikings' extra point and Danieal Manning returned three kickoffs for 134 yards. The offense was actually productive in the red zone -- two touchdowns and a field goal -- and Cutler threw four touchdown passes and only one interception. And ready for this? The Bears were penalized just three times for 31 yards.
Two Bears players were carted off the field, for god's sake.
"To be honest," said Manning, "a lot of guys were saying 'This might be our last game in Chicago, so let's leave a good impression and give the fans what they want.' There was a lot of that. The guys wanted to leave a good feeling."
Yes, but couldn't they have tried to leave a good feeling a little harder at the end of regulation, when, with 16 seconds left from the Bears' 31-yard line, the home team let time expire instead of heaving one downfield?
And couldn't they have cradled a few dropped interceptions, including one right in the mid-section of Bears' corner Zackary Bowman that would have put the game away with 2:12 left in regulation?
Or is that putting a damper on the whole feel-good vibe of a team making a run at a seven-win season?
"The talent is here, I think that's what tonight showed," said Bears end Alex Brown, playing without his fellow bookend Adewale Ogunleye. "Everybody loves Minnesota. They're a complete team at every position, but we were able to beat them tonight. We had different guys making big plays."
Those guys included Hunter Hillenmeyer, who wasn't even a lock to make the team in training camp and had a game-high 13 tackles and forced his fourth fumble of the season to set up the game-winning touchdown on the next play. And Chris Williams, flipped over to left offensive tackle three weeks ago and voted the guy most likely to get Cutler maimed this week against NFC sack leader Jared Allen, who actually held the big guy in check.
So what if the Vikes were without run-stuffing nose tackle Pat Williams?
The Bears beat a Vikings team that punished them four weeks ago in Minneapolis, 36-10.
"Losing seven of the last nine games, that's tough," said tight end Desmond Clark, who caught his first touchdown of the season Monday night. "It's been a while since we've lost that many games in that span of time, so it's good just to get one. When I saw DA streaking down the sideline and the ball hit him in stride, I just thought, 'Thank goodness we finally got another win.'
"Tonight is what we've been preaching all year, that if we do what we have to do and not turn the ball over and not get stupid penalties and execute the way we're supposed to, we can be a pretty good offense and it finally showed tonight."
Smith said this was not about his job but it was about the future. And about pride. About playing for a national TV audience.
Williams was asked whether tonight's game was about what could have been or what can be.
"It was about what can be," he said. "There's no sense of focusing on what could have been because all of that is gone and you can't do anything about the past. Everything is looking forward."
But he's not in denial, at least.
"The bottom line is we're a 6-9 football team," he said. "Could we have been better? Yeah, we could've won more games, but the bottom line is we're 6-9, so there were some missed opportunities as everyone knows and we should've played better but we didn't."
So, what the hell? For one night, they felt good. Maybe you did too. If it saved their coach's job, we're not likely to ever know for sure.
It's just one night.
Today, we can all get back to feeling lousy.
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