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Bears almost stun, then left stunned by Falcons
In a season already marked by some excruciating losses in which leads were given away, this one hurt the most. You could hear it in the Bears' voices and see it in their eyes.
"This one is tough. To trail the whole game and our offense made just a huge, huge drive ..." linebacker Lance Briggs said, pausing to find the right words and then trying to be philosophical. "We built our hearts up to get them broken down, but that's football."
The Bears had taken their first lead of Sunday's game against the Falcons on Kyle Orton's 17-yard touchdown pass to Rashied Davis — good throw, better catch — to go ahead 20-19 with 11 seconds left. Their hearts were indeed up.
After the return of a squibbed kickoff put the ball at the Atlanta 44, quarterback Matt Ryan threw for 26 yards along the left sideline. Receiver Michael Jenkins caught the ball and was able to get out of bounds with one second left.
That was all Falcons kicker Jason Elam needed to convert a 48-yard field goal, his fifth of the game.
The kick went through the uprights and deep into the gut of the Bears.
"We were 11 seconds away," defensive tackle Tommie Harris said quietly. "These are the ones that really hurt, the ones you think you have in the bag. To have it taken away, well, I can't describe it."
Unfortunately for the Bears, they may be getting too much experience describing the sensation.
They allowed a game-winning touchdown with less than four minutes to play in a three-point loss to Carolina.
The tying touchdown given up in the overtime loss to Tampa Bay came with seven seconds left in regulation.
Now the Bears are in a three-way tie with Minnesota and Green Bay at 3-3 in the NFC North. The Vikings come to Soldier Field next weekend off a 12-10 victory over Detroit on a field goal with nine seconds left.
This was a game that belonged to the Falcons virtually throughout. Ryan appeared at times to be doing little more than running seven-on-seven passing drills at the Bears' expense, throwing for 159 yards in a first half in which Atlanta had the ball for 20 minutes.
If there was a positive, it was the Bears managing to stop Atlanta drives in time to force Elam field goals of 29, 48 and 32 yards rather than allow touchdowns. Robbie Gould answered with one from 36 yards to account for the Bears' only points of the first half.
The Bears then began to take the game away from the Falcons in the third quarter.
The defense forced a fourth field goal, and Matt Forte, who totaled 76 rushing and 34 receiving yards, brought the Bears within 12-10 with a 3-yard run to cap an 82-yard drive, their third longest of the season.
Ryan then completed passes of 47 and 26 yards against the injury-depleted Bears secondary to set up a 3-yard scoring flip to receiver Roddy White, who caught a game-high nine passes for 112 yards. It was Atlanta's only touchdown.
"We were never in a rhythm on defense," safety Mike Brown said. "They did pretty much what they wanted to do on offense, kept us off balance, moved the ball up and down the field, kicked a lot of field goals and scored a touchdown."
Two weeks ago it was the Bears turning back Philadelphia with a goal-line stand in the fourth quarter. Sunday they experienced one at their own expense.
The Bears answered the Falcons' score with a 33-yard kickoff return to midfield by Garrett Wolfe.
Orton then completed four passes of 10 yards or longer in five throws for a first-and-goal at the Atlanta 8. The Bears reached the 1-yard line, where fullback Jason McKie and Forte were stymied on successive inside runs that cost the Bears points as well as momentum.
The defense, however, stopped two Atlanta possessions without a first down, sandwiched around a 32-yard Gould field goal to leave the Bears trailing 19-13.
After Elam missed the only one of his six field goal tries, Orton directed the Bears on a 77-yard drive that ended with the go-ahead touchdown pass to Davis.
But the 11 seconds that remained were enough for the Falcons.
"We were not able to start fast and finish strong," coach Lovie Smith said. "What do you say after a tough loss like that? We've been in that situation before."
It doesn't make the words any easier to come by.