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Tuesday, December 23, 2008
The fates converge on Soldier Field

By Kevin Seifert
ESPN.com

 
 Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
 Rookie running back Matt Forte keyed Chicago's comeback victory with 73 rushing yards and a critical touchdown in the fourth quarter.

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

CHICAGO -- You know the fates have turned your way when a referee named Ron Winter flips a coin into the frigid night sky above your home stadium. Gravity pulls the coin down on the helmet of your captain. It bounces onto your frozen field and rolls a few yards before determining that, yes, you get the first possession of overtime in a game in which a division title is at stake.

And that's exactly what happened late Monday night at Soldier Field, where the Chicago Bears had improbably forced overtime after overcoming a 14-3 halftime deficit. Winter's toss landed on Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher's head and ultimately put the Bears in position to defeat Green Bay, 20-17, on the final "Monday Night Football" game of the season.

"Shoot," Urlacher deadpanned in the Bears' still-thawing postgame locker room. "I need to get that guy to throw it at my head every time."

It was a night of fortunate bounces and opportune plays for a Bears team that didn't have a lead until Robbie Gould's 38-yard game-winner on the first possession of overtime. Their offense managed 20 points on 210 total yards, converting three of 12 third-down opportunities, and the Bears fought off near-certain defeat by blocking Mason Crosby's 38-yard field goal with 25 seconds left in regulation.

Quietly, the Bears have won three consecutive games -- including the past two in overtime -- to keep maximum pressure on the NFC North-leading Minnesota Vikings.

"It wasn't pretty, but a win is a win is a win," Bears quarterback Kyle Orton said. "Let's hope we keep on doing that. It's just been one of those seasons. Early on in the season, we had a chance to pull ourselves into the lead and we were never able to do it. Minnesota's had a chance and they haven't had a chance to do it. Hopefully we can this time."

Indeed, the Bears can clinch the NFC North by winning Sunday at Houston and if the Vikings lose at home to the New York Giants. Even if the Vikings win, the Bears enter the weekend in reasonable contention for a wild-card playoff berth.

But after a night of improbable occurrences, the Bears were thinking big.

"We've still got a chance," defensive end Alex Brown said. "So all I can say is, 'Go Giants.'"

Smiling, Brown looked in the lens of several television cameras and added:

"Giants, please play all four quarters in Minnesota. You're going to get a week off before that first playoff game, anyway. So just play the whole game.

"My brother is a huge Giants fan. This is the only week in my entire life that I'm going to cheer for the Giants. I'm going to cheer for the Giants like they're the Bears."

Brown helped save the Bears' season by getting his hands on Crosby's 38-yard attempt. Brown, in fact, made the strategic decision to move about five spots down from his usual position on the field goal block team in hopes of crashing through the line.

Crosby's attempt was low and likely to be blocked regardless.

"The kick looked low to me," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. But it wasn't until Brown got his hands on the ball that a victory seemed possible.

The Bears did not tie the game until 3:11 remained, when tailback Matt Forte crashed through the middle of the line for a 3-yard touchdown run. Their offense was lifeless and their defense was on its heels for most of the night as the Packers built leads of 7-0, 14-3 and 17-10.

"We knew we came out flat," cornerback Corey Graham said. "There was a little yelling at halftime. We knew we needed to come out in the second half with more energy."

But by the time Winter's coin toss gave the first possession of overtime to the Bears, a victory suddenly seemed likely. Gould is a lock inside of 50 yards, and he said Monday night the frigid temperatures belied a relatively calm wind at Soldier Field.

"Now, the big thing is we've still got a heartbeat," Gould said. "We're still alive."

A few other observations before we call it a night -- or early morning: