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Soldier Field was transformed into the theater of the bizarre Monday night.
Unlikely heroes, unlikely goats, unlikely outcome.
The undefeated Bears, all but one nail sealing their coffin, somehow escaped with a chilling 19-13 overtime victory over the New York Jets in front of 65,255 thoroughly enthralled fans.
"We had the game lost more times than we had it won," said Bears quarterback Jim Harbaugh, who had a career night with 28 completions in 42 attempts for 303 yards and one touchdown.
"We may be the luckiest team in the world," said coach Mike Ditka. "It might be divine intervention."
Down to their last gasp in regulation, Harbaugh tossed a 6-yard pass to Neal Anderson as time expired. Kevin Butler booted the extra point to knot the game 13-13 and send it into OT.
That tying touchdown would not have been possible if Bears defensive tackle Steve McMichael had not stolen the ball from Jets running back Blair Thomas with 1 minute 54 seconds left in regulation.
"It was unbelievable; we talked about it in the huddle: 'Hold 'em up, strip the ball. We've got to make the play!' " said Bears middle linebacker Mike Singletary, his eyes still aglow in the locker room. "And the next play it happened. (McMichael) just took the ball out. That's what we had to have."
The Jets were poised to seize the winning moment again in overtime when veteran kicker Pat Leahy lined up to chip in a 28-yard field goal with 3:50 remaining. But the boot sailed wide left.
"Got to thank the good Lord tonight," said Harbaugh.
Harbaugh was at his best on the Bears' next drive, alternately passing to Tom Waddle (8 catches for 102 yards), Wendell Davis (9 catches for 96 yards) and Anderson (4 for 20 yards).
"Who played better out there than Tom Waddle?" asked Ditka. "He is a diamond in the rough."
Then came Harbaugh's 22-yard pass to tight end Cap Boso for an apparent game-winning TD with 35 seconds left in overtime.
"I was down in the tunnel hugging people," said Boso. Harbaugh was conducting a television interview near the north end zone. Then the officials at the south end zone declared that Boso was down at the 1 following an instant-replay reversal.
"They said my knees were down, but the ball was over," said Boso. "That was the craziest game I have ever played in."
"He did have a touchdown, but I don't rule on that," said Ditka.
When the players from both teams were reassembled, Harbaugh kept on a quarterback sneak for the apparent clincher. Another instant replay delayed the final confirmation that the Bears had improved to 4-0 and Ditka had captured his 100th career coaching victory.
"I was over by a good foot," said Harbaugh.
All the news was not good for the Bears, who travel to meet unbeaten Buffalo next Sunday.
"I think we lost (defensive end) Trace Armstrong for a while," said Ditka. "It's a (knee) ligament, for sure. We won't know for sure until they do an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). "Also, Brad Muster (hamstring) is hurting. He's not ready to play."
The Bears marched 72 yards in eight plays before taking a 3-0 lead on Butler's 33-yard field goal with 9:50 left in the first quarter.
The drive included a 31-yard pass from Harbaugh to Waddle and a key interference call on Jets cornerback Tony Stargell that set the Bears up at the Jets' 27.
The Jets grabbed great field position following Butler's short kickoff. Terance Mathis returned the bounding kick 37 yards to the 45.
A 24-yard pass from Ken O'Brien to Al Toon, a 10-yard run by fullback Brad Baxter and a face-mask penalty on McMichael were the highlights of the Jets' 53-yard drive that wound up with a 19-yard field goal by the 40-year-old Leahy, the NFL's oldest player.
The first turnover of the game occurred with 14:04 left in the second quarter. After catching a flare pass from Harbaugh, fullback James Rouse was hit by Kyle Clifton and fumbled. Lonnie Young recovered at the Bears' 35. After advancing to the 20, Leahy failed on a 37-yard field-goal attempt.
Leahy had hit on 98 of his previous 106 attempts inside 40 yards since 1985 before pushing that one wide right. Butler failed on a 45-yard field-goal attempt with 4:03 to go in the half.
Then the Jets advanced 56 yards in nine plays before Leahy hit on a 34-yard field goal at the halftime gun to take a 6-3 lead.
The Jets continued their excellent ball control in the third quarter, driving 60 yards in nine plays to take a 13-3 lead on Baxter's 1-yard run. Veteran running back Freeman McNeil, who picked up a first down on a third-down sprint draw, led the way blocking for Baxter on the TD.
Butler cut the Jets' lead to 13-6 with a 44-yard field goal with 12:51 left in the fourth quarter.
The Bears drove to the Jets' 5 in the final minutes of the regulation. Darren Lewis gained a couple of yards to the 3 on first down. Then Rouse was stuffed by Young on a 1-yard gain to the 2.
On third down, Anderson lost a yard to the 3. On fourth down, from shotgun formation, Harbaugh was stopped on a quarterback draw at the 1 by Brian Washington with 3:32 remaining.
"I felt like I was bringing the team back and we were moving the ball. Then when I got stopped on the quarterback draw I figured that was it," said Harbaugh. "But we kept getting some breaks, and the defense did a good job of getting us the ball back."