Mike Nadel: Bears find yet another way to lose
In the time it took to figure out how the Bears were about to win a game they had no business winning, they had blown a game that seemed impossible to lose.
"It's kind of like we built our hearts up just to get them broken," Lance Briggs said. "That's football."
Football? To the Bears and their fans, that was pure agony. Followed by unadulterated bliss. Followed by a piano falling 81 stories and landing on their heads.
Sunday's last-second, reality-defying, 22-20 loss to the Atlanta Falcons left coach Lovie Smith wondering what he'd tell his team: "What do you say after that?"
Um, I don't know. Maybe: "Thank goodness it's over." It is over, right? NFL commissioner Roger Goodell isn't going to make the teams come back to the Georgia Dome on Tuesday for one final play, is he?
No such luck for the luckless Bears, who are 3-3 despite holding late leads in all six of their games.
Asked how Sunday's loss compared the failures against Carolina and Tampa Bay, Mike Brown said: "I don't rate losses. They all suck."
Perhaps, but Sunday's had a unique suckiness to it.
Led by rookie quarterback Matt Ryan and a scrappier-than-expected defense, the Falcons already had dominated most of the game when Jason Elam lined up for a chip-shot field goal to clinch it with 2:50 to play. Channeling his inner Cub, however, one of the most prolific kickers in NFL history badly pulled the 33-yarder wide left ... and, amazingly, the Bears were still alive.
Kyle Orton, who had played only OK to that point, coolly marched the team 77 yards in 11 plays, capping the drive with a perfect 17-yard touchdown pass to Rashied Davis. When Robbie Gould made the extra point, the Bears led 20-19 with 11 seconds to play.
"Everybody was down," Atlanta defensive end Jamaal Anderson said. "I mean, who wouldn't be down after that?"
Had the Falcons stayed down, the stories you'd be reading today sure would be different. Orton would have been the hero, the defense would have been lauded for somehow surviving injuries to both starting cornerbacks, a backup corner and the nickel back, and the Bears would have had twice as many October victories as both Chicago baseball teams combined.
After the Bears' go-ahead score, Gould's lousy, not-quite-squib kick was returned 10 yards by Harry Douglas to Atlanta's 44. Six seconds left. Ryan heaved a 26-yard sideline pass that Michael Jenkins caught between Brown and recent scrap-pile pickup Marcus Hamilton. One second left. And Elam redeemed himself by booting a 48-yarder through the uprights.
Bedlam at the Georgia Bowl! The surprising Falcons - 4-12 a year ago but 4-2 this season - celebrated as if they had won the Super Bowl.
And the Bears couldn't have been more stunned if they had been stung by an army of jellyfish.
"That was tough," Alex Brown said. "We got a little taste of all the emotions of football right there in 30 seconds."
After many of his teammates had showered and departed, Tommie Harris was sitting in front of his locker, still in full uniform.
"It really hurts," he said. "We were 11 seconds away from a win. We thought we had it in the bag. To have it taken away, well, I can't describe it."
Mike Brown, the veteran safety who is supposed to be the glue of the secondary, took responsibility for the Ryan-to-Jenkins pass that set up the winning kick.
"He was open, man; I guess you can blame me," said Brown, who might have overcompensated for Hamilton being out of position. "Good throw. Good catch. But I should have made the play and I didn't. So I'll take the blame."
Not so fast, defensive coordinator Bob Babich said: "It all starts with me, obviously. The call didn't work. So I'm gonna take the blame for that."
Orton correctly pointed out that the offense didn't play well enough most of the game, contributing to exhaustion for a banged-up Bears defense.
"When you play teams like this who like to run the ball and eat up the clock," he said, "you have to get first downs on offense."
Had each Bear taken as much responsibility during the game as each did afterward, Lovie's lads would have been smiling, laughing and talking about a two-touchdown victory. Instead, gloom prevailed in a deathly quiet locker room.
"You pull ahead ... and then you've lost," Briggs said. "It's sad."
Mike Nadel (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the Chicago sports columnist for GateHouse News Service. Read his blog, The Baldest Truth, at www.thebaldesttruth.com.