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Unsightly 4th quarter sinks Bears
Hindsight for the Bears the next two weeks will be 21/20the score of Sunday's emotionally excruciating loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
For a team with long-range visions of recapturing the NFC Central title and advancing in the playoffs, the Bears will not soon lose sight of the unsettling manner in which they lost control of this one.
The Vikings rallied from a 20-0 fourth-quarter deficit Sunday to stun the Bears with three late touchdowns in front of 60,992.
A few thousand Chicago partisans began chanting "Na-na-na-na, hey-hey, goodbye" about one quarter too soon.
Bears coach Mike Ditka appeared tense and terse during his postgame oratory, venting and spewing his frustration at Jim Harbaugh, who called an audible that was inaudible in the din of the Vikings' den.
That led to a tide-turning interception by Todd Scott. The Vikings safety returned the theft 35 yards for a touchdown to trim the deficit to 20-7 and turn the momentum for Minnesota.
"I will say this honestly (about Harbaugh calling an audible)if the situation arises again, there will be changes made and they will be permanent," Ditka said. "I'm not going to put 47 guys' careers in the hands of somebody who thinks he knows more than I know. That's the way I feel."
Harbaugh responded: "It's Mike's team; he can do whatever he wants to."
The Vikings (4-1) have sole possession of the NFC Central since Tampa Bay (3-2) lost Sunday to Indianapolis. The Bears fell to 2-3 and will have an extra week to lick their wounds. The NFC Central will have a bye next weekend. The Bears' next game is Oct. 18 against Tampa Bay at Soldier Field.
"It's a loss," said Ditka. "What are you going to do? We've dug ourselves a big hole. Now we'll find out if we have enough character on this football team to get out of the hole, that's all.
"Not much you can say," said Ditka of Harbaugh's decision. "Sometimes we get too smart for our own selves. When the player knows more than the coach, you have a problem. That's part of life, I guess."
Harbaugh (20 of 34 for 201 yards and one TD) said the play sent in from the sideline was an "all-go," in which the four receivers run deep fly patterns straight down the field.
Harbaugh said he detected the Vikings defensive backs moving up into bump-and-run coverage when his team came to the line of scrimmage, so he changed the call to an "80 audible," which is a 6-yard stop or hitch route. Problem was, Neal Anderson could not hear the audible at the line of scrimmage in the noisy dome, so the pass came up short and into the hands of Scott.
"I saw (Scott) coming up and I tried to throw the ball over Neal's head and out of bounds, but it just didn't go," said Harbaugh.
"I'm very upset that it happened. I think I played my heart out. I just made a mistake. It was a bad call, a bad audible. I shouldn't have done it." With the score 20-7, the Vikings picked up steam, scoring on a 16-yard pass from Rich Gannon to Cris Carter (8 catches for 67 yards) with 9 minutes 37 seconds left to make it 20-14. Then Roger Craig bulled over from a yard out to cap an impressive 10-play, 78-yard drive with 1:46 remaining.
Gannon, who was 20 of 25 for 187 yards and one TD, came to the defense of Harbaugh.
"He made that one mistake," he said. "It turned the momentum around, ut he didn't go out on defense and give up two touchdowns. You can't blame him for that."
The rest of the blame goes to the Bears defense, which entered the game ranked 25th in the National Football League.
The Bears have now been outscored 100-34 in the second half this season. The offense has yielded 21 of those second-half points on interceptions returned for TDs.
"We haven't changed much, I guess," said Ditka. "We haven't figured out how to play 60 minutes of football. That's kind of bothersome."
Kevin Butler gave the Bears a 3-0 lead on a 50-yard field goal with 7:07 left in the first quarter. The boot made Butler the Bears' all-time leading scorer with 753 career points. He had been tied with Walter Payton for the record.
A turnover led to the Bears' next score. Terry Allen's fumble was recovered by William Perry at the Vikings 47. The Bears drove to the 19 before settling for a 37-yard field goal by Butler and a 6-0 lead with 6:55 left in the half.
A third Minnesota turnover nullified yet another excellent drive with 4:39 left in the second period. Allen caught a screen pass from Gannon and rambled 20 yards to the Bears 38 before fumbling for the second time. Dent forced the fumble and Mark Carrier recovered.
The Bears moved 61 yards in eight plays to take a 13-0 lead at halftime. On third and 7 from the Vikings 28, Harbaugh lofted a perfect pass into corner of the end zone. Tom Waddle gathered it in as the ball went over the shoulder of cornerback Carl Lee.
The Bears appeared to seal the deal with an impressive 16-play, 91-yard drive to start the second half. Harbaugh completed 8 of 9 passes for 87 yards on the drive and capped the march with a 7-yard quarterback draw for a TD.
But the Bears' first turnover of the game was costly. Harbaugh's sideline pass was intercepted by Scott and returned 35 yards for a touchdown, and the comeback was on.
"All we had to do was play for a quarter. We deserved (to lose)," said tackle Keith Van Horne. "We didn't come through in the fourth quarter when we needed to. It messes with your psyche a little bit."