Bears beat clock—and Lions

SportsFootballChicago BearsDeathJim HarbaughDetroit LionsRay Crockett

It was a big-game situation every young boy dreams about.

Fourth down on the 6-yard line.

Five seconds left. Trailing by four points.

Playing against the defending division champions on opening day.

Nationally televised.

Jim Harbaugh and Tom Waddle enacted the dream Sunday, hooking up on a last-second, 6-yard touchdown pass to salvage a 27-24 Bears victory over the stunned Detroit Lions at Soldier Field.

The call in the huddle was "13-wing Jet," the same play that Harbaugh and Waddle collaborated on to win in New Orleans last Oct. 27.

It was compelling theater, encore performance or not.

Wide receiver Wendell Davis cleared out his man—cornerback Ray Crockett—deep into the corner of the end zone. Waddle cut in front of Davis and Crockett, across the middle. Harbaugh looked away to freeze the linebackers, then fired a low bullet into the arms of Waddle.

"We ran that pass earlier and they killed Tommy on that twice," said coach Mike Ditka. "We took the motion off (the play), and that made the guy (safety Harry Colon) trying to get to him have to go through Davis, who was going to the corner. Harbaugh threw the ball absolutely perfect. Couldn't have thrown it any better."

The Bears won their ninth straight opening-day game in front of 63,672 enthralled fans who saw the lead change hands four times in the fourth period. The Lions had taken a 24-20 lead with 1:12 remaining on a 27-yard pass from Rodney Peete (18-of-26 for 273 yards and 2 TDs) to seemingly take the starch out of a Bears comeback effort. But…

"I really thought we could win it," said Ditka. "The reason I felt it is because we had the three timeouts. Even though we hadn't played that well in preseason, the one thing we have done well has been our two-minute drill. I don't like to get in them, but you have got to work on them."

Harbaugh called all the plays on the drive, except the TD toss, which was sent in special delivery from offensive coordinator Greg Landry.

Waddle, who had only one catch for three yards before his game-winner, was at once pleased and understated about his clutch performance.

"I owe these guys in this room a lot," said Waddle in a joyous lockerroom. "I was very happy the last play was called to me because I really needed to make amends for the way I played. I may not look it, but I am very happy.

"Personally, I expect a lot from myself. I got Neal Anderson killed a couple of times (with missed blocks) and I made Jim Harbaugh look bad (with a dropped third-down pass). Every time we ran that ('13 wing Jet') play today, someone was always waiting in the middle for me. Jim made a great throw and it worked out."

The Bears scored on their opening possession, capping off a 68-yard drive with Harbaugh hitting Anderson for an 11-yard swing pass. Kevin Butler converted for a 7-0 lead.

Earlier in the drive, Anderson fumbled a handoff from Harbaugh. The ball squirted downfield and Waddle fortuitously recovered for a 12-yard gain.

The Lions drove from their own 10 to the Bears' 25 before Peete's pass intended for Willie Green was intercepted by Lemuel Stinson and returned 46 yards. Barry Sanders gave Stinson a forearm to the chin as he ran him out of bounds. The personal foul moved the ball to the Lions' 21.

The Bears converted the turnover into a 34-yard field goal by Butler with 14:08 left in the second period for a 10-0 lead.

The Lions' Mel Gray returned Butler's kickoff 49 yards to the Bears' 47.

"Mel Gray is a heck of a football player. You are not going to stop him every time," said Ditka.

After a 7-yard scramble by Peete, a 40-yard touchdown pass to Brett Perriman brought the Lions to within 10-7. Perriman faked out Bears strong safety Markus Paul with an open-field maneuver on the way to the end zone.

Lions rookie Jason Hanson tied the game 10-10 on a 38-yard field goal with :14 left in the half. Peete completed six straight passes on the 59-yard scoring drive. Sanders gave the Lions a 17-10 lead on a magnificent 43-yard TD run early in the fourth quarter. He broke away from the grasp of linebacker John Roper and free safety Mark Carrier before sprinting to the end zone.

"On defense, I think we have to get a little bit better. I was a little disappointed in some of the coverages," said Ditka. "But I'll tell you what, they tried. They went after them. We had better pressure on the quarterback than we had in the past."

The Bears pulled to within 17-13 when Butler sailed a partially blocked 38-yard field goal with 7 minutes left in the game.

Rookie first-round draft pick Alonzo Spellman sacked Peete for a 14-yard loss on third down that left the Lions on their own 3.

Spellman said he thought he had tackled Peete on the goal line for a safety. "He was still moving when I brought him down," said Spellman.

Jim Arnold punted 59 yards, but Donnell Woolford returned it 27 yards to the Lions' 35.

After a 14-yard pass from Harbaugh to Davis and a 3-yard run by Brad Muster, Anderson sprinted 18 yards into the left corner of the end zone to give the Bears a 20-17 lead with 2:55 left.

Harbaugh completed 19 of 30 passes for 227 yards and 2 TDs. He also ran four times for 28 yards and avoided being sacked.

"There are probably a lot of fancier quarterbacks in the league than ours. But ours is awfully tough," said Ditka. "Tommy Waddle made the play when he had to. Neal Anderson (52 yards on 13 carries and one TD, plus 32 yards on three receptions and one TD) was unbelievable. Great, great effort. A great exhibition of football. He ran the ball like Neal Anderson runs the ball."

The Bears defense could not completely stifle Sanders (109 yards on 19 carries and 1 TD), but they recorded six sacks. Steve McMichael had two and Trace Armstrong, Jim Morrissey, Spellman and John Roper had one each.

"Alonzo made a play. But McMichael made plays and (Richard) Dent made plays, and Trace . . . everybody made some plays," said Ditka. "We won the game because we didn't quit. That's important.

"The pass rush was a little better. It might be because (Detroit) has some people missing in the line.

"We stunted a little bit more in the line. We had a couple of blitzes in. A couple blitzes worked out good, and a couple of them we really got burned bad on. When you blitz, you get a chance to get burned. That doesn't mean you have to stop blitzing."

Or stop dreaming.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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