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The biggest play of the game doesn't always come with 0:00 on the clock, or in a sudden-death overtime finish.
Not every week. Not Sunday.
The Bears and their fans may be spoiled by the team's recent stunning comeback climaxes against San Francisco and Cleveland, but now they know the other team makes the pivotal play once in a while.
The Green Bay Packers defeated the Bears 20-12 Sunday at Soldier Field. And the single biggest play of the game occurred not in the fourth quarter but in the second. Not in the last minute, when 65,630 fans were wishing and hoping, but just before halftime, when they may have been preoccupied with thoughts of hot dogs or restroom trips.
Packers quarterback Brett Favre completed a 41-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Bill Schroeder streaking into the left side of the end zone for a 10-6 Green Bay lead with 45 seconds left in the period. Significant? Sure. Insurmountable? Not for the 2001 Bears. And yet it was. The Bears got close but never led again.
"You never know," Bears tackle Blake Brockermeyer said. "That turned out to be the factor in the game."
The Bears were ahead 6-3 when the Packers began at their 46-yard-line. Favre, the 10-year veteran who each week reminds opponents why he has been a three-time National Football League MVP, completed three straight short passes.
Favre was just softening up the Bears' defense with the left jab. Then came the overhand right.
Schroeder, a 6-foot-3-inch, 205-pound sixth-year man out of Wisconsin-La Crosse, is a less heralded pass catcher than running back Ahman Green or flashier end Antonio Freeman. But coming into the game his 18 grabs averaged 20.3 yards each, more than 7 yards per catch better than Freeman or Green.
At the snap, Schroeder bolted from the line of scrimmage and wiggled enough to convince the defenders he might slash across the center of the field.
"I just looked back to see what Brett was doing," Schroeder said.
"I might have tried to make a little bit of a post move. Then I kept it inside."
When the touchdown was signaled, Freeman happily tackled Schroeder, who was just back in the lineup after missing the last two games for the Packers, and the celebration hurt Schroeder's already sprained ankle.
The play was even more painful for members of the Bears' secondary.
Left cornerback Walt Harris blamed himself for the mistake that cost the touchdown. Harris picked up Schroeder early but then let him go. When Schroeder hugged the ball, strong safety Tony Parrish was the closest Bear.
"Mistakes we made out there cost us," Harris said. "The [touchdown] was a mistake on my part. I should have been there to help Tony downfield. I should have stayed with [Schroeder] downfield."
It appeared possible the Bears were in zone coverage, but Parrish said that wasn't the case.
"It was man coverage," he said. "They made a play."
The score that gave the Packers their 10-6 lead came so early there was no reason for the close-with-a-rush Bears to think it mattered that much. Less than a touchdown? Plenty of time to come back. In fact, they got a field goal less than a minute later. Ten-nine? What's a point? The Bears never made up the point.
"Every play you've got to take advantage," Harris said. "It might be your last opportunity. A big play here and there could be the deciding factor in a game."
This time it was. When everyone least expected it.