Into the arms of Chicago Bears teammate Alex Brown he jumped. Then Paul Edinger disappeared into a mound of Bears mania seconds after kicking a 48-yard field goal as time expired Sunday to give his team a 24-21 comeback victory over the Oakland Raiders at Solder Field.
One Bear hug after another buried Edinger, who smiled through clenched teeth somewhere at the bottom of the pile of joy.
"I still have a headache," Edinger said afterward.
It beat the heartache he and an entire city would have felt had Edinger missed and the Bears eventually lost in overtime instead of winning for the first time since Dec. 15. But Edinger stayed calm during an Oakland timeout designed to unnerve him and coolly nailed the kick into "a pretty good wind."
That breeze was nothing compared with the force of Bears fans exhaling. Edinger's third field goal of the day sent an ornery, interactive crowd of 61,099 home with a sense of optimism instead of dread after a game in which the Bears played badly at times, but the Raiders played worse.
The Bears overcame 11 penalties, two sacks, two bad interceptions and an anemic first half that resulted in the fans booing them off the field as they headed into the locker room trailing 18-3.
But the Raiders fell apart in the second half as kicker Sebastian Janikowski had a 47-yard field-goal attempt blocked in addition to missing an extra point, quarterback Rich Gannon threw two costly interceptions and the defense couldn't stop the Bears on money downs in the fourth quarter.
"Granted, it wasn't the prettiest win, but who cares about how pretty it is?" Bears quarterback Kordell Stewart said. "At the end of the day, the only stat that really matters is the one I love the most, and that's a win."
Stewart, 13-of-24 for 160 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions, persevered through a rough day in the pocket as well as from a pocket of hecklers attacking him personally from a section of the north bleachers. He pointed to one of those fans after his two-point conversion run gave the Bears a 21-18 lead with 6 minutes 58 seconds left.
"It got vicious," Stewart said.
He acknowledged a few of his throws deserved boos. But without Stewart's 29-yard completion to Dez White with 15 seconds left, Edinger's heroics wouldn't have been possible.
One play before that completion, White had run a slant that Raiders cornerback Terrance Shaw covered and forced Stewart to scramble for a 19-yard gain. The play was negated by a holding call on Mike Gandy that moved the ball back to the Bears' 40, but it was a worthwhile play because the Bears noticed how aggressively Shaw defended the slant.
So offensive coordinator John Shoop called the same play, except this time had White fake the slant and head upfield. Shaw bit so hard on the fake that he's still looking for his shorts around midfield.
"In that situation, guys are trying to make a play," White said. "It was a great call by coach Shoop and great execution."
Poor execution by the Raiders' offense and special teams in the second half put the Bears in the position to win on the final possession.
It started when Janikowski lined up for a 47-yard field goal with 11:17 left in the third quarter with the Raiders leading 18-3. Good scouting told the Bears that Janikowski gets the ball into the air faster than any kicker in the NFL, so they stayed away from their traditional edge rush. Instead they focused on coming up the middle, which was where defensive end Phillip Daniels was charging when his right arm got in the way of the kick.
"Nobody doubted we could win this game, even when we were down 18-3," Daniels said. "We looked at each other at halftime and said they've given us their best. Now let's go out and get them and make something happen."
That's exactly what Daniels' defensive linemates did a few minutes later. With 7:05 left in the quarter on first-and-10 from the Raiders' 20, Bears defensive tackle Alfonso Boone batted a Gannon pass into the air that defensive end Brown dived to catch. The interception gave the ball to the Bears at the Oakland 18.
Penalties and poor pass protection stalled the drive, but three plays later, the comeback had begun with a 50-yard Edinger field goal that made it 18-6.
The Bears' defense looked sluggish in giving up 108 yards rushing in the first half, but big second-half plays like Brown's boosted their energy--and their belief system. The Raiders gained only 15 rushing yards after halftime and ran just 22 plays.
"I think the biggest problem was them believing in themselves and believing in each other," defensive coordinator Greg Blache said.
Its confidence buoyed, the defense smelled victory and seized opportunity. With the Bears down 18-13 with 9:12 left, cornerback R.W. McQuarters intercepted a pass that went through the hands of tight end Doug Jolley and returned it 43 yards to the Raiders' 45. Three plays later the Bears had their first lead in the last 22 quarters dating back to last season, going up 19-18 after fullback Stanley Pritchett rambled over left guard from 8 yards out. Stewart's two-point run around right end followed.
On the TD, Pritchett followed a well-worn path over left guard Steve Edwards. Running back Anthony Thomas continued his season-long resurgence with 123 yards on 22 carries, many of them right behind Edwards and center Olin Kreutz on designed cutbacks.
"A lot of those runs were calls to the right that bended back," Shoop said.
Pritchett sensed the Bears "wore down" the Raiders up front, and in the second half the running game kept the secondary honest against a Bears passing attack that took a baby step forward. Stewart finally established some rapport with Marty Booker, who caught a key 14-yard TD pass at the beginning of the fourth quarter, and White made the biggest clutch catch of his up-and-down Bears career.
"I think it was," White said. "It's like a sigh of relief. It was good for the fans. They're going to let us know when we're doing bad, but they're not going to bail on us either. They were definitely the 12th man on the field, and we finally gave them something to cheer about."