Ominous dark clouds scudded overhead and driving rain bursts and swirling winds whistled through Joe Robbie Stadium, creating eerie special effects for the Bears and Miami Dolphins to perform in the theater of the bizarre.
Maybe the victory was a fluke. Maybe the Bears are a fluke. Maybe the Bears will make the playoffs. Nothing seems unfathomable after the Bears emerged with an unlikely 17-14 victory Sunday that lifted them to within one game of NFC Central Division-leading Minnesota (7-3).
Kevin Butler booted a 40-yard field goal with 59 seconds left to give the Bears the final margin. But they had to sweat out Pete Stoyanovich's 45-yard field-goal try, which was blocked by James "Big Cat" Williams with :02 remaining.
Steve Walsh made a triumphant return to his old college haunt by winning his fifth game in as many tries as the Bears' starting quarterback. After beginning slowly, Walsh wound up completing 18 of 27 passes for 188 yards. He lost one fumble on a snap from center, but threw no interceptions.
"Everybody knows what kind of team Miami is," Bears coach Dave Wannstedt said. "With (our) injuries and banged-up guys, I can't really say enough about the character of this football team. I don't know if there is a guy in that locker room who didn't contribute, whether it was on special teams, offense or defense."
The Bears started three rookies-two on defense. John Thierry filled in for defensive left end Trace Armstrong, out with a hyperextended elbow. And James Burton patrolled the right cornerback slot without major incident. First-year fullback Raymont Harris caught a team-high seven passes for 51 yards.
The Bears (6-4) took a 7-3 lead in most unconventional fashion, scoring on a fake field-goal attempt that wound up with tight end Keith Jennings scoring a touchdown on a 23-yard pass thrown by wide receiver Curtis Conway.
The offensive line set up on the left hash mark for the apparent 40-yarder by Butler. Holder Chris Gardocki and Butler lined up in the center of the field. The ball was snapped sideways by tight end Marv Cook to Conway. Conway rolled to his right, avoided two onrushing Dolphins, and unleashed a pass in the direction of lineman Jerry Fontenot, who lined up at left end and was an eligible receiver.
The pass deflected off the hands of Fontenot, who was covered tightly by Michael Stewart and J.B. Brown, and into the hands of Jennings, who scored.
"I loved it," Walsh said. "Conway just made an outstanding effort. By far the player of the game. He caught the ball great, ran the ball really on one leg (because of a thigh bruise) and made a great play on that pass. Jerry Fontenot . . . give him some credit. He tipped it up at the end."
"It was really a fluke thing after the trick play, and we had that pretty well contained," Dolphins coach Don Shula said. "He ended up throwing it up for grabs, and it was a batted ball, and they came down with it. Those things happen. Hopefully, we'll get some bounces like that ourselves."
The Bears beat the Dolphins (7-3) for the first time in Miami in four tries. The Dolphins entered the game with a 13-1 record against NFC Central opponents at Joe Robbie.
Stoyanovich's 33-yard field goal midway through the second quarter pulled Miami within 7-6 at the half.
Torrential rain affected performances early in the second half as each team turned the ball over. Tight end Keith Jackson, who had five catches for 58 yards, attempted a lateral after catching a short pass from quarterback Dan Marino. The errant toss wound up on the ground, and linebacker Dante Jones pounced on it. Walsh lost a fumbled snap three plays later. On the next play, Marino's deep pass was intercepted by Donnell Woolford, who had the ball stripped after a long runback. O.J. McDuffie, who forced the fumble, also recovered it.
The Bears took a 14-6 lead with 11:13 left in the fourth quarter when Lewis Tillman cracked in from the 1 at the end of a nine-play, 69-yard drive that featured a 15-yard pass to Harris, who appeared to dive into the corner of the end zone.
The Dolphins came back to tie the game 14-14 with 5:46 left when Marino threw a third-down dart to Jackson for an 11-yard score. Then Aaron Craver burst up the middle for a two-point conversion.
Woolford appeared to have intercepted a Marino pass deep in the end zone two plays before the pass to Jackson. But the official ruled Woolford did not land both of his feet inbounds.
Butler's winning three-pointer came after a 47-yard drive that featured passes of 14 yards to Conway, 15 yards to Jeff Graham and 10 yards to Tillman.
"I just try to go out and make the few opportunities I have," said Butler, who missed a 51-yard attempt earlier in the game and is 9 for 14 on the year.
"This is probably the most exhilarating win of the season for me," said Walsh, who was 23-1 as a starter for the University of Miami.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times