Bears find another way to win
A shootout against these defenses? It makes sense in this crazy season
CHICAGO -- But of course the Bears would prevail over the Jets in a 38-34 shootout, Chicago's defense preserving the victory in the final minute.
What? You were surprised?
"I would have laughed if you'd have told me that beforehand," said the aforementioned defensive hero, Bears safety Chris Harris.
Laughter sure beats the boos that fluttered down like the intermittent snow flurries over Soldier Field in Sunday's second quarter as the Jets pounded out 24 points to the Bears' 7 to erase a 10-0 deficit and take a 24-17 lead into halftime.
But the Bears' victory and how they achieved it should not have been shocking. Not after the past few weeks. Not after the past few months. Not after this much of a season in which logic continues to have no place and one in which the Bears are headed to the playoffs with high hopes of securing a first-round bye and home-field advantage.
The Bears are what they've said they are, a team that finds ways to win -- 11 of 15 times at last count -- whether it measures up to everyone's expectations or not. And there can be no definitive or resounding judgment yet, other than a shake of the head, which is what they're doing almost every week now.
"You think of a game like this, the Jets and the Bears, and you look up and it's tied 31-31? Goodness," linebacker Lance Briggs said. "Defensively, man, we have to go back and get things right."
And yet offensively, Bears fans have to be thrilled with 78 points over the past two weeks, Jay Cutler's extended moments of brilliance, Matt Forte's continued dependability (113 yards on 19 carries and a touchdown) and the offensive line's resiliency.
In that second quarter, while Mark Sanchez was shredding the Bears' Cover 2, the Bears' offensive line was fronting drives of minus-10, 2 and minus-7 yards leading up to a seven-play, 64-yard drive that resulted in a 2-yard touchdown run by Cutler.
Cutler had started off the quarter with the dreaded pick-six, an ill-fated attempt to Earl Bennett in double coverage on the second play that was read perfectly by Jets corner Dwight Lowery, who skipped in the 20 yards for a touchdown.
"The whole offense had a bad second quarter. We lost the momentum, and we weren't executing," Bears center Olin Kreutz said. "It always looks like it's just the quarterback and usually it's not. [But] all year we've stuck together, all year we've said we're going to keep improving and that's what we did. We came in at halftime and just said, 'Let's do our assignments,' and we went back out there and played."
We definitely needed to win in front of our home crowd because we're going to have home playoff games. We need to get them used to watching a winning Bears team at home.” -- Chris Harris
It was actually the Bears' defense that was oddly out of kilter, getting uncharacteristically little from both Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije, who finished with one tackle apiece, no sacks and Peppers not even with an assist.
Playing with torn cartilage in his throwing shoulder and without a touchdown pass in three prior games, Sanchez completed 13 of 15 passes for 156 yards in the first half, including three for 46 yards to Santonio Holmes, who was also supposedly limited by turf toe.
Then there was Jets running back Shonn Greene, who averaged 5.5 yards per carry in the first half, scoring on a 3-yard run for the Jets' first touchdown, which came after an eight-play, 80-yard drive that ate up nearly five minutes at the end of the first quarter and the beginning of the second.
The Jets got a little too cute, however, with a fake punt early in the second half. The play was read easily by the Bears and Rashied Davis, who knocked down Sanchez's pass to Brad Smith on fourth-and-3 from the Jets' 40.
"There were a lot of turning points in this game," a grateful Briggs said.
Fortunately for the Bears, there are also apparently punters out there who haven't read of the exploits of one Devin Hester, who returned a punt for 38 yards to the Jets' 32. Hester closed with a 25-yard touchdown catch from Cutler three plays layer and added a kickoff return for 40 yards on his next chance. That return also gave the Bears the ball in Jets territory and also led to a touchdown, this time on a 26-yard pass from Cutler to Johnny Knox four plays later to break the 31-all tie.
It was Knox's second touchdown catch of the day, after his 40-yard reception earlier in Cutler's shining third quarter, giving Bears fans an offensive show the likes of which they will likely never get accustomed to.
But it was Harris who ultimately got the last word in against a Jets team that had been 6-1 on the road coming in and that still qualified for the postseason with Washington's unlikely victory over Jacksonville.
Harris, who had recovered a first-quarter fumble by Holmes to set up a 22-yard touchdown run by Forte, swooped under a deep attempt by Sanchez during a last-minute desperation drive by the Jets and picked it off at the Bears' 41 to seal the victory.
It was his fifth interception of the season, a career-high for Harris, who had no trouble admitting he's counting in his second go-around in Chicago.
"It kind of feels like I never left," said Harris, who spent the past three years in Carolina and could be forgiven for blanking them out.
Last time Harris was here, the Bears were Super Bowl-bound. He knows what's possible, even when it appears completely improbable.
"We definitely needed to win in front of our home crowd because we're going to have home playoff games," Harris said Sunday after the last regular-season home game. "We need to get them used to watching a winning Bears team at home."
Of course if you're a Bears fan, there's no such thing as getting used to anything.
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.