As Bears defensive ends Alex Brown and Adewale Ogunleye picked themselves off the mound of bodies in the end zone Sunday at The Coliseum, they quickly found themselves buried in a pile of joy.
Their teammates flooded the field to celebrate a game-winning safety in overtime that gave the Bears an unlikely, unorthodox 19-17 victory over the Tennessee Titans.
It was only the second time in NFL history a game had ended on a safety.
"That's just what we do," Brown said in an elated locker room.
Brown got credit for the sack and forced fumble against Titans quarterback Billy Volek, but Ogunleye also applied pressure and smothered offensive tackle Fred Miller when Miller fell on the ball.
"I know [Ogunleye] said he got the sack, but he would say that," Brown said, smiling. "I got the sack."
There was no argument about how much the Bears are enjoying the team's first three-game winning streak since December 2001 thanks to the only safety to end a game since Nov. 5, 1989, when Minnesota beat the Los Angeles Rams 23-21 on a blocked punt that rolled out of the end zone.
Never underestimate the impossible. That sounds like a line from a country-music song around here, and it is. But that was the tune the Bears (4-5) were singing Sunday night as they left the Music City tapping their feet to a playoff rhythm.
Green Bay's 34-31 victory over Minnesota at Lambeau Field knotted up the NFC North, so the Bears are one game behind the Packers and Vikings with seven to play.
"Nobody ever gave us a chance, but sooner or later they will," said R.W. McQuarters, author of a dazzling 75-punt return for a touchdown. "This was bigger than beating the Giantson the road, in overtime, and we kept fighting till the end."
Only because of big plays on defense and special teams did the Bears have any fight left.
Marc Colombo, for example, playing his first game in nearly two years due to a knee injury, gave the Bears a big handliterally. Colombo, on the field-goal-block unit to take advantage of his 6-foot-8-inch, 325-pound frame, used his right arm to deflect a 52-yard attempt by Craig Hentrich on the final play of regulation to send the game into overtime.
"You're supposed to have a happy ending when a guy goes through what he did," coach Lovie Smith said.
The Bears persevered as a team despite a pathetic offensive performance that produced just 176 total yards. Quarterback Craig Krenzel regressed to resemble the fifth-round rookie he is more than a guy hailed for being 3-0 as a starter.
Outside of a 10-play, 69-yard fourth-quarter drive that set up Paul Edinger's tying 29-yard field goal with 56 seconds left, Krenzel struggled. Even on that series, Krenzel made a rookie mistake when he wasted a play by spiking the ball to stop the clock on first-and-10 from the Titans' 15 with 1:25 left.
"I thought [spiking the ball] was the best thing to do," Krenzel said. "There was something coming in my headset, but it was loud, and I thought they might be saying, 'Clock, clock, clock,' to stop the clock. I probably should have just tried to run a play and quick pass to get 4 or 5 yards."
Krenzel completed 4 of 6 passes on the final drive but only 10 of 28 overall for 116 yards with two interceptions, and he also lost a fumble. His quarterback rating of 19.3 was among the lowest in the league this season by a winning quarterback.
"Obviously our goal is to go out and score more than three points as an offense, but once again our defense is playing as well if not better than any defense in the league right now," Krenzel said. "They gave us a chance."
It was by pure chance that the defense produced a touchdown Sunday.
Ogunleye already had headed into the locker room to refit his knee brace when the Bears regained possession of the football with 51 seconds left in the first half. But Titans defensive end Kevin Carter forced Krenzel to fumble on a sack, and Tennessee got the ball back at its own 45 with 49 seconds to go.
Three plays into the series, Ogunleye's replacement, defensive end Michael Haynes, read a play he recognized from practice and picked off a swing pass intended for Robert Holcombe. Haynes rambled 45 yards to tie it 7-7.
"The football gods were on my side," Haynes said.
The Bears' secondary gave up two long TD passes, but those breakdowns were overshadowed by a defensive unit that now has scored four touchdowns this season compared with 12 for the offense. Smith knows that ratio has to change for people to take those playoff aspirations seriously.
"We need more offensive production, we realize that," he said.
Without an offensive threat, McQuarters again gave the Bears their best big-play option against the Titans.
His 75-yard return ignited the sidelines the same way game-breaking plays the two previous games had. McQuarters caught Hentrich's punt near the numbers on the left side, sprinted toward his wall of blockers and weaved through traffic until he had only Hentrich to beat.
"I wasn't going to let the punter get me," McQuarters said.
A second return for a TD by McQuarters, an 85-yarder four plays later that would have given the Bears a 21-7 lead, was called back when Corey Jenkins was flagged for an illegal block.
"I thought my head was in front of the guy and it was a bad call," Jenkins said.
The Bears also questioned an official's ruling in the fourth quarter that negated a Brian Urlacher interception. One play before Gary Anderson's 33-yard field goal cut the lead to 14-10, Urlacher stepped in front of a Volek pass intended for Drew Bennett, bobbled it and appeared to fumble it when he jarred the ball loose with his knee.
The ruling: Urlacher never had possession.
"I thought I had it, but they didn't, and that's all that matters," Urlacher said.
The play would not have mattered at all had the Bears protected the lead a little more cautiously a few minutes later. On first-and-10 from the Bears' 42 with 7:23 left, Krenzel forced a deep pass to Bernard Berrian that Andre Dyson picked off.
Four plays later, Volek hit Bennett for a 47-yard score that set up the Bears' dramatic finish.
"They went out on the field and they weren't going to come back in until we had a victory," Smith said. "Once you have success, it breeds success."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times