The Chicago Bears got some help in clinching the NFC Central championship on Sunday.
First the Bears defeated the Detroit Lions, 23-17, in overtime. Then the Minnesota Vikings beat the Green Bay Packers to give Chicago the division title.
The Bears had refused to take a gamble against the Lions in regulation, and then nearly lost in overtime.
With the Lions leading, 17-14, the Bears opted to play for the tie on fourth down from the one and forced overtime on Kevin Butler’s 19-yard field goal with 33 seconds remaining. Then they took the 16-m.p.h. wind instead of the ball to start overtime, only to see the Detroit Lions drive to the Chicago 17.
Eddie Murray missed a 35-yard field goal and the Bears, with 4:03 left in overtime, used a 50-yard touchdown pass play from Jim Harbaugh to Neal Anderson for the victory.
Murray, one of the NFL’s most reliable kickers, was wide left on what would have been the winning kick.
“I deliberately kicked it left because of the wind,” he said.
Chicago took the ball and picked up three first downs before Harbaugh connected with Anderson down the right sideline for the winning touchdown and the Bears’ second overtime victory of the season.
“I never saw the pass,” Harbaugh said. “I made a good throw and I think the safety got caught short.”
Harbaugh said he had wished he had gotten into the end zone in regulation play when he went from the 10-yard line to the one on a third-down quarterback draw.
“I didn’t think about it,” Coach Mike Ditka said of going for the touchdown instead of the tying field goal. “I wasn’t going to try to go in there. We have the best field-goal kicker in the league and I believe in our defense. That’s why we took the wind in overtime.
“This isn’t good for my health,” Ditka said. “We were fortunate and sometimes in life you have to be fortunate. Ron Rivera made the key play of the game.”
The Lions were leading, 17-14, and driving for another score late in the fourth quarter when Rivera intercepted Bob Gagliano’s pass and returned it to the Chicago 31 with less than three minutes to play.
Harbaugh then led the Bears to set up the tying field goal.
“Sometimes Christmas comes early,” Rivera said. “I was frozen on the play and when (Jim) Morrissey put on the pressure, I got my drop and the ball came right at my head. It has to be the biggest play of my career. It was a big victory. it’s going to live with us for a while.”
Anderson said there was man-to-man coverage on him on the touchdown pass. “I told Harbaugh to let it go and I’d get it,” he said.
Safety William White was the victim. “I made a bad read,” White said. “He simply got behind me. I blew it. It was my fault.”
Ditka said the victory, Chicago’s 10th in 12 games, was an indication of the team’s progress after a 6-10 record in 1989.
“Last year, we would have lost this game and the game at Denver,” he said. “We were lucky and I’m happy because this puts us a step closer to what we want.”