Back in 2001 the Bears pulled off two of the most unlikely comebacks when, on consecutive weeks, safety Mike Brown returned interceptions in overtime for wins that ultimately propelled the Bears into the playoffs.
Those interceptions also changed the psyche of a team that had endured six straight seasons out of the postseason, the last five of those with losing records. Players admitted back then that they began to expect something good to happen instead of years of the opposite.
That was a time for the defense. Now a team that has missed the playoffs five of the last six seasons by managing to stumble at crucial points has sensed an identity change because of what a Chicago Bears offense has been able to do for a change.
“The identity is that’s being created is ‘clutch,’ ” linebacker Lance Briggs said. “When the chips are down, some Bear is going to make a play.”
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Last season, after a 7-1 start, the Bears began to find ways to be un-clutch. In the losses to Houston, Seattle, Minnesota and Green Bay, the Bears had fourth-quarter chances to win or tie. They succeeded in none of those games.
Now after two consecutive fourth-quarter comebacks, led by a quarterback with a dismal record when trailing after three quarters, the defense that had reasons not to believe in its offense is finding reasons to expect good things.
“The one thing that sticks on right now is that when we need a score, our offense will get that score,” Briggs said. Then with blunt honesty he added, “Last year, really any year, defensively we think we need to create a turnover and score, in order for us to score.”
Resiliency the first step
The first step toward being “clutch” is being able to recover from being knocked down. Coach Marc Trestman noted that “in the first two weeks we've seen a unique team resiliency, an ability to keep our poise, an ability to just move onto the next play without what happened on the last play inhibiting us.”
The “clutch” identity has emerged in all three phases.
Against the Minnesota Vikings, Bears special teams allowed a 105-yard return by Cordarrelle Patterson of the opening kickoff for a touchdown. Devin Hester then answered immediately with a return of 76 yards and the offense turned that into a touchdown five plays later.
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Minnesota netted exactly 45 yards on their other kickoff returns and were forced to fair-catch the only two punt returner Marcus Sherels fielded. And the game effectively ended with Blake Costanzo ripping the ball away from the Vikings returner on the final kickoff, ending any hope of a last-second comeback.
The defense allowed drives of 75, 81 and 79 yards in the span of four Minnesota possessions but stopped the last two and a third after a Bears fumble with only field goals.
Against the Cincinnati Bengals, quarterback Jay Cutler threw an interception on the second play of the fourth quarter with the Bears trailing 21-17. The next time Cutler and the offense got the ball, they calmly went 81 yards for the game-winning touchdown.
Comebacks happen, particularly with athletes who have to have a certain “it” to have reached this level in the first place.
“These guys are elite players,” Trestman said. “They're champions themselves in their own right. And they've played in stress pretty much their whole life. That's why they've been able to make it to this level. So I think all players have it in them.”
They may. But for the first time in a while for the Bears, they believe in “it.”