Just gotta post this for the record and posterity, but last night’s Monday Night Football game between the Chicago Bears and the Arizona Cardinals was one of the oddest most phenomenal I’ve ever seen. Traveling to the southwest with a dominating 5-0 record (and already being compared to the 1985 Super Bowl-winning Bears) to play the lowly 1-4 Cardinals, the game looked to be about as lopsided a contest as it could, even with USC’s golden boy Matt Leinart at Arizona’s helm â€” especially with Leinart.
See the Cardinals are generally regarded as a team that has a proven ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Whether that’s true or not, statistically and long term they suck. I’m not totally square on my facts, but I think they’ve had one winning season in the past 20 years (and that was a 9-7 record). And their previous two seasons have gotten off to identically pathetic won/loss starts as this one. So even with Heisman/National Championship/Rose Bowl-winning Leinart taking the snaps for them with his 37-2 record as a starter for USC, the sense was that past achievements not withstanding he’s still a rookie QB stepping with the big men for only his second NFL start and Da Bears with their “Monsters of the Midway” defense were just a-gonna eat him up yum.
So how does the game begin? Well dropjaw dang if on the Cards very first position Leinart doesn’t march his team down the field through the vaunted Chicago defense and across the goal line like he’s a fifth-year veteran. This is significant not only from a storybook standpoint, but also because until then the stingy Chicago defense had not allowed any points â€” not even a field goal â€” in the first quarters of their previous eight games. So for that to happen and by the craptastic Cardinals no less… whoa!
See, I’d been hoping that it would play out as had been predicted. I was hoping Arizona would fold early and Chicago would score so that all would be right in the football world and I’d have time to pedal up to the Griffith Park ranger station auditorium for a meeting on the Griffith Park master plan. But see this is why they play the games. So instead somehow the poles got reversed and I was glued to the set watching the unthinkable. Chicago who could do nothing but look silly turning over the ball on offense against a suddenly tough and swarming Arizona defense. And by the time the first half mercifully ended the Arizona offense racked up a 20-0 lead.
And it didn’t get better in the third quarter. Sure, on their first possession of the second half the Bears finally put a drive together that didn’t result in a fumble or an interception or a punt, but in the end it petered out and only resulted in a field goal, which the Cardinals later matched putting the score at 23-3 and the Bears right back in a 20-point hole.
And this is how it stayed until a few seconds before the start of the fourth quarter and I think the whole of the known football-watching world was sticking a fork in this game. Everyone except Chicago. Sure enough with two seconds left in the third a hard hit on Leinart forced a fumble that Bear safety Mike Brown picked up and took into the endzone. Score: 23-10.
The first 10 minutes of the final period were predominately business as usual for the Bears whose offense still couldn’t accomplish anything, but then against the Bears suddenly stepped-up defense, neither could the Cardinals and with five minutes left during an Arizona run play Chicago’s superstar middle linebacker Brian Urlacher stripped the ball from the grasp of Cardinals running back Edgerrin James during a pile-up at the line of scrimmage and boy howdy if Bears cornerback Charles Tillman didn’t scoop the loose ball up and run it 40 yards for another defensive touchdown. Score: 23-17.
Arizona then stalled during the drive that followed and was forced to punt with just under three minutes remaining. Unfortunately for them their punting team picked a lousy time to fall apart and allow Bears speedster Devin Hester to gallop almost untouched for an 82-yard return. Score: 24-23.
Every Cardinal player and fan in that brand spanking new $450-million stadium in Glendale, Ariz., was shellshocked. Hell, I don’t think anyone watching the game could believe what they’d seen; that the Bears defense and special teams produced 17 points and the lead.
Still, it wasn’t over yet. With plenty of time on the clock Leinart again looked entirely the part of the veteran leader he wasn’t and on their final possession expertly moved his offense from their own 38 yard line to the Bears 22, giving his team the opportunity with 53 seconds left on the clock to snatch victory back via a 41-yard field goal to be delivered by the leg of Neil Rackers, widely considered to be one of the best kickers in the league.
But not tonight he wasn’t. Rackers’ foot stubbed the ground and the kick flew wide left and the Bears, whose offense generated only three points on 168 yards while committing six turnovers, emerged with one of the weirdest wildest wins in the history of Monday Night Football and the game itself.