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Chicago Bears stun Minnesota Vikings 36-30 in overtime
If this Bears team had shown up two months ago, there might not be jobs on the line at Halas Hall.
As it is, the firing squad still figures to assemble at this time next week when a season that has fallen well short of expectations comes to a merciful end. But Monday night at Soldier Field, general manager Jerry Angelo got validation on his youth movement or the Bears got a dose of false hope for what promises to be a busy offseason.
For the first time this season, the Bears had a balanced and potent offense with Jay Cutler leading the way in a 36-30 overtime upset of the Vikings that was capped by a 39-yard touchdown pass to Devin Aromashodu with 9 minutes, 15 seconds to play in overtime.
Yes, the NFC North champion Vikings (11-4) appear to be unraveling at the worst possible time having lost three of their last four games, but the Bears (6-9) took it to them when the only thing they had to play for was pride and the chance to leave a late impression on the decision-makers.
It was nearly another in a long line of crushing fourth-quarter meltdowns. The Bears led 23-6 with 21 minutes to play in the game after holding a 16-0 halftime lead, the biggest first-half deficit of the season for the Vikings, who throttled them 36-10 last month at the Metrodome.
The Bears squandered two games in the fourth quarter versus Green Bay, blew chances late at Atlanta and San Francisco and also squandered a fourth-quarter lead against Philadelphia.
None of them would have measured up to this, not after the Vikings scored 30 points in the second half, including a 6-yard touchdown pass from Brett Favre to Sidney Rice with six seconds remaining in regulation. The Vikings would have won the game on that play if Israel Idonije had not blocked a Ryan Longwell extra point in the third quarter.
But the Bears showed resilience in overtime they have yet to display this season. After Robbie Gould missed a 45-yard field goal wide right, Hunter Hillenmeyer punched the ball out of Adrian Peterson's grasp as he went to the ground. Nick Roach recovered and Cutler audibled away from a run to a go route when he detected the Vikings were not in Cover-2. Aromashodu blew past Antoine Winfield for the easy score.
"Through all the roller coasters and tough breaks it's good for the team, it's good for the morale to answer the bell, especially in the fourth quarter and overtime," said Cutler, who finished with four touchdown passes.
It was the first time this season the offense clicked, and the defense was stout in the first half before Favre got the Vikings going.
Bears coach Lovie Smith implored his players to respond in front of a national audience and at the start they did just that.
With Devin Hester still nursing a calf injury, Aromashodu filled in again and staked his claim to what ought to be at least a shot at a starting job next season. He finished with seven receptions for 150 yards. Olsen, who had his best game in more than a month, drew a big pass-interference penalty midway through the third quarter that set up a 2-yard touchdown pass to Desmond Clark that put the Bears ahead 23-6.
But the Vikings rallied. Favre threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to Visanthe Shiancoe late in the third quarter and Longwell kicked a 41-yard field goal to bring the Vikings to 23-16 with 12:10 left.
The Vikings then put together a long drive when the Bears lost cornerback Charles Tillman to a rib injury after a crushing hit from safety Craig Steltz as they went to tackle Shiancoe. Peterson ran in for a 1-yard touchdown, his second score of the game, to tie it 23-23.
Danieal Manning, handling all kickoff return duties after rookie Johnny Knox was carted off with a left ankle injury, returned the ensuing kickoff 59 yards and that set up Cutler's 20-yard touchdown pass to Bennett to put the Bears up 30-23.
Favre looked like he might be the hero again when he drove the Vikings the distance to tie on the fourth-down pass to Rice despite good coverage from Corey Graham.
Aromashodu wasn't the only young bright spot. Chris Williams did well at left tackle protecting Cutler's blind side versus Jared Allen. He got a lot of help from running back Matt Forte but held up well in his first major test, good enough to give Angelo reason for confidence heading into 2010.
A strong effort against a good team came at least a month too late. Much more was expected from the Bears, even if few gave them a chance to succeed here. With the new year will come a resolution for change.