The Chicago Bears and Baltimore Ravens took a side trip through the Land of Oz on Sunday and their return ended in a wet and weird 23-20 overtime victory for the Bears that kept them in the hunt for the playoffs and left the Ravens in a very bad spot.
But none of that really matters.
It was just a football game but it could have been catastrophic and was, indeed, deadly for some people just several hundred miles away from Chicago’s Soldier Field.
The Ravens led 10-0 in the first quarter when severe winds, rain and dark clouds that looked like they were drawn in hell descended upon Chicago’s lakefront having already, in the form of tornadoes, cut a deadly path through southern and central Illinois, ripping houses to shreds, tossing cars like blades of grass and killing at least eight people.
No one at Soldier Field knew at that moment that the weather had killed people but everyone was well aware of the potential danger and the game was, rightly, delayed. The officials sent the players into the locker rooms and Soldier Field staff told the 62,367 fans to move inside. The delay lasted one hour and 53 minutes.
Then, it was time for football again.
The Soldier Field grass, which is widely considered the worst playing surface in the NFL, had been transformed into a muddy bog of potholes and the game became a test of which team could better handle the delay and navigate the striped minefield.
It proved to be the Bears. It was close, but we’ll take it.
Josh McCown was at quarterback again for the Bears in place of the injured Jay Cutler and Mr. McCown continued to impress, playing about as well as a QB could amid challenging conditions and against a depleted but proud Ravens defense, completing 19 of 31 passes for 216 yards, one touchdown and, amazingly again, no turnovers.
In #12’s four games of action he has completed 60.4% of his passes for five scores, no turnovers, and a quarterback rating of exactly 100.0% which is higher than Tom Brady, Andrew Luck, Cam Newton, Alex Smith and, among others, Tony Romo. If McCown keeps playing – Cutler is expected to be out at least one more game – he will certainly, at some point, throw an interception and make bad decisions. But for now, he’s a joy to watch. He’s precise and cautious, yet completely unafraid. The Bears want Cutler back, to be sure. But if Josh has a few more good games they might not be so vocal about it.
McCown’s best play of the game came in overtime when he connected with tight end Martellus Bennett for 43 yards setting up Robbie Gould’s game-winning 38-yard field goal about six minutes into the extra quarter. Sixty-two thousand Bears fans, most of whom had gutted out the rain and wind, celebrated wildly and the Bears had their third victory of the year against the AFC North.
But the heroics of McCown, Bennett and Gould would not have been possible if the Bears’ defense, which has been criticized more than Rob Ford, had not come up big.
Chicago’s first touchdown came when defensive end David Bass intercepted Joe Flacco for a 24-yard interception return in the second quarter. It was the fifth defensive touchdown for the Bears this year. Since 2005, the Bears are 25-2 when the defense scores and have won 11 in a row when getting a defensive TD.
Those TDs are nice but you also have to do it the old fashioned way sometimes and just stop people, and the Bears, who are still missing Charles Tillman, Lance Briggs, Shea McLellin and just about every other defender who’s making big money, did that, too.
Baltimore won the coin toss to start overtime and the Bears were able to hold Joe Flacco and Ray Rice’s crew to one first down before forcing a punt. Prior to that the Bears defense did allow Baltimore to drive down 96 yards at the end of the fourth quarter for the tying field goal. That cannot be denied. But the Bears at least were finally able to come up with some clutch tackles and kept Baltimore out of the end zone. Maybe they shouldn’t have been in that position but they were, and they got it done.
The Bears’ defense still has much to answer for. Ray Rice, who is having a terrible season, got healthy on Sunday running for 131 yards and a score against the Bears who have running backs all over America licking their chops. The Bears are allowing 133.9 yards rushing per game, second worst in the NFL, and have given up 11 rushing scores, which is tied for fifth worst in the league. Oh Henry Melton, where art thou?
The Bears are now muddied, bloodied, battered and 6-4. The Detroit Lions lost on Sunday to drop to 6-4 and the Aaron Rodgers-less Green Bay Packers also fell and are 5-5 so Chicago’s chances of winning the NFC North, which it will probably have to do to qualify for the playoffs, remain ripe.
The campaign continues with a trip to St. Louis to face the 4-6 Rams. Some of the Illinois tornadoes struck near St. Louis so that city is feeling the pain of what happened on Sunday just as much as Chicago is. Hopefully this coming Sunday’s game will help fans in both cities gain some solace and, at least for a few hours, forget a terrible afternoon when thousands had to take shelter.