The atmosphere was juiced for the Bears' first "Monday Night Football" game in five years. The fans at the University of Illinois' Memorial Stadium booed the visiting Green Bay Packers heartily and cheered the home Bears mightily.
Although it is said that often as many Green Bay fans sneak into Bears home games for these rivalry matchups, you couldn't prove it by the garb. The panoramic view revealed almost all orange-and-blue fan paraphernalia.
But if the fans appeared to understand their assigned theatrical yelling roles from the start, the silent treatment emerged spontaneously. As has happened so frequently during his career, Packers quarterback Brett Favre shut them up.
By the end of the first quarter, the 12-year veteran out of Southern Mississippi seemed to be heading for a world-record passing day. Favre had completed 8-of-11 passes for 180 yards.
The play that hit the fans' mute button came on Green Bay's second possession. The Pack took over on its 15-yard line. Favre took the snap, rolled left, stopped and pitched a long strike to a streaking Donald Driver, who outran R.W. McQuarters and Mike Brown for an 85-yard TD.
Driver has emerged as Favre's go-to guy. Before this season, his seasonal high for catches was 21. Before this game, he had 21 catches in 2002. For good measure, Driver also caught a 17-yard pass and gained 13 yards on a reverse in the quarter.
But Favre was an equal-opportunity offensive employer in the quarter, also firing a 19-yard touchdown pass to tight end Tyrone Davis. Green Bay led 14-7 at the end of the quarter.
Mike Brown should be hired for a magic-fingers bed endorsement. Already a legend for his two game-winning interceptions for touchdowns last season, the Bears' free safety was once again a ball magnet in a critical situation.
The Bears were trailing 21-7 and Packers quarterback Brett Favre appeared to be revving up for another touchdown march. Favre whipped a pass to receiver Donald Driver, who held on to the ball just long enough for the reception to count. His drop was a live ball, and Brown scooped it up and dashed to the Green Bay 4-yard line.
The play was a momentum-changer, providing the Bears with golden field position. On the third try from scrimmage, Jim Miller flipped a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end John Davis, and the Bears were back in the ballgame.
Although middle linebackers are historically beloved in Chicago, absolutely nobody in Champaign expected Brian Urlacher to be fading back to pass. Midway through the quarter, the Bears set up to punt from their 36-yard line.
The snap went to receiver Marty Booker, who flipped the ball to Urlacher, who threw a pretty nice spiral toward snapper Patrick Mannelly. Incomplete, but the play was a sharp retort to anyone who criticizes the Bears' limited offensive creativity.
The Bears have long taken immense pride in their defense, and defense was the cornerstone of last year's 13-3 team. So the fans were definitely clued in at game's start when defensive end Phillip Daniels and cornerback R.W. McQuarters were introduced as starters. Out with injuries from Week 1, neither was expected to play.
Yet it was Bad, Bad Mike Brown who made the biggest splash.
No broadcaster ever intoned the word with more flair than Keith Jackson. Sitting at home in his living room, you could almost hear him blurt it out when the Bears' Rabih Abdullah bobbled the opening kickoff of the second half.
These days, Al Michaels and John Madden may be the "A team" in the booth for "Monday Night Football" (and sign-toting fans devised some of the most tortured combinations of Madden and ABC in hopes of being seen on TV), but Jackson's call lives on in memory. Packer Tod McBride recovered Abdullah's miscue, and the Packers soon had first-and-goal on the Bears' 5-yard-line.
Rookie offensive lineman Marc Colombo saved the day, or at least the moment, by blocking Ryan Longwell's field-goal attempt. The Bears took over on their 10. If they moved all 90 yards downfield in one swoop, it would have exceeded their 85-yard total offensive output of the first half.
The Bears trailed 24-14 as they advanced to the Green Bay 14. Comeback time. Except Packers defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila took up residence uninvited in the Bears' backfield. First the man nicknamed KGB sacked Jim Miller. Then the other defensive end, Joe Johnson, creamed Miller, who released the ball as he was hit. It floated right into KGB's hands, and he rumbled 72 yards for a touchdown.
Meanwhile, those stunned-into-silence Bears fans found their vocal cords, booing the home team. The next series ended with a Miller interception, and then a three-and-out. Displeasure reflected not only the 31-14 Green Bay lead, but also the 431-to-195-yard advantage in total offense.
That was the story of the Bears' fourth quarter. Fifteen minutes of desperation. They had to eat up yardage in big bites so quarterback Jim Miller had to throw, throw, throw.
Most often he found Marty Booker slanting in, hooking out, breaking free. Last year Booker set a team record with 100 catches. As the Bears anxiously tried to make up time they didn't have and a deficit that took most of the game to accrue, Booker repeatedly ran the medium-length routes that made him a star.
Sometimes he was hit immediately. Sometimes he turned upfield. The Miller-Booker tandem was good for 31 yards. Then for 7. Then 13. Then 12. The Bears, who became famous for late charges last year, kept on pitching, kept on hoping they could score fast enough to make up a 34-14 deficit, then a 34-21 deficit.
The Packers built their lead primarily on quarterback Brett Favre's accuracy and field generalshiphe became the eighth NFL passer to go over 40,000 yards in his career. But they held it in the late going with a conservative game plan: Hand off to Ahman Green.
Still, Bears fans have learned not to ever give up hope. They have seen this team perform stunning comeback feats before. When David Terrell plucked a Miller heave out of the air for a 52-yard gain, leaving the Bears on the Green Bay 7 with around 3 minutes to go, it seemed too good to be true. Another miracle?
Not this time. Instead of a touchdown on the next play, the Packers' Nate Wayne intercepted. A Bears win was a long shot already, but that play sealed the win for Green Bay.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times