Miracle Workers The Bears staged a furious rally to pull out their sixth straight victory--and their second in a row in overtime

November 12, 2001

Chicago Bears wideout David Terrell expected the worst when he
reached the team's training facility in Lake Forest, Ill., last
Friday morning. The news had spread that he had guaranteed a
victory over the visiting Cleveland Browns two days hence, and he
knew his prediction was one that few rookies would be bold enough
to make, especially on a team that has endured five consecutive
losing seasons. "I thought my teammates would want to wring my
neck, but they all said they supported me," Terrell said on
Sunday. "They told me we're supposed to expect to win."

That swagger is the obvious difference between the feeble Chicago
teams of recent vintage and the surprisingly staunch one that
sits atop the NFL world with a 6-1 record. The Bears believe good
things should happen to them, and their 27-21 overtime defeat of
the Browns is proof of how far conviction and a few well-timed
bounces can take you. Free safety Mike Brown's 16-yard
interception return of a deflected Tim Couch pass ended things
nearly three minutes into the extra period, punctuating a game in
which Chicago trailed by 14 points with 32 seconds to go.

Brown had also been the hero in a 37-31 overtime defeat of the
San Francisco 49ers on Oct. 28, returning an interception 33
yards for the game-winner after the Bears had erased a 15-point
fourth-quarter deficit. Chicago's stingy, opportunistic defense
has been primarily responsible for turning around a team that has
won six straight following an opening loss to the Super Bowl
champion Ravens in Baltimore. The defense has given up an NFC-low
13.6 points per game and has scored a touchdown in four games.

Chicago's offense, on the other hand, has been streaky but is
developing a knack for delivering in the clutch. For 58 minutes
against Cleveland, that offense was awful. Shane Matthews threw
three interceptions and had several other passes batted away. The
line, which had surrendered two sacks in the first six games,
permitted five against the Browns. When Cleveland went up 21-7
after a 55-yard touchdown pass from Couch to wideout Kevin
Johnson late in the third quarter, things looked bleak for
Chicago.

That's when Matthews, who has been waived four times in a career
spanning nine years with the Bears and the Carolina Panthers,
rediscovered his touch, much as he had when he engineered the
comeback against San Francisco. He also displayed the qualities
that had made him Chicago's starting quarterback until a strained
rib-cage muscle sidelined him in Week 2 and opened the door for
Jim Miller (who was back on the bench on Sunday after sustaining
a hip pointer against the Niners). Matthews is cool under
pressure, and he compensates for his lack of arm strength with
smarts, a quick release and attention to detail. That's why he
was so irritated with the way he played for most of the afternoon
against Cleveland.

Matthews finished with gaudy numbers (30 completions in 50
attempts for a career-high 357 yards), but he did most of his
damage in the final 1:52 of regulation, completing 10 of 11
passes for 122 yards and two scores. His nine-yard touchdown pass
to wideout Marty Booker with 32 seconds remaining cut the deficit
to seven, and after linebacker Bobbie Howard recovered Paul
Edinger's onside kick, the Bears moved the ball to the Browns' 34
in three plays. With eight seconds left Chicago lined up for a
play called Flood Tip. Matthews worked out of the shotgun.
Running back James Allen, who had been lined up to the left of
the quarterback, raced to the right side of the end zone. Then he
scanned the eyes of Terrell, Booker and wideout D'Wayne Bates,
who had positioned themselves among six defenders deeper in the
end zone.

As soon as Matthew released the ball, he thought he had thrown it
too far. However, both the 6'3" Terrell and 6'2" Cleveland safety
Percy Ellsworth got their hands on the pass, tipping it to their
left. Allen dived and snatched the ball right before it hit the
ground. "It's hard [for a defense] to find James because of where
he comes from," said Bears coach Dick Jauron. "That's why he was
loose."

"We've probably practiced against that play 25 to 40 times since
minicamp and at least once a week," said Cleveland coach Butch
Davis, whose team fell to 4-3. "You try to get the ball at its
highest point and spike it or just catch it cleanly. Percy may
have been trying to spike it, but then [Allen] comes in, lays out
and makes the catch."

It was a major moment for Allen, who had become a forgotten
component of the offense. A former practice-squad player with the
Philadelphia Eagles, the 26-year-old Allen led Chicago in rushing
last season with 1,120 yards. This year the emergence of rookie
Anthony Thomas, a second-round draft pick out of Michigan, has
limited Allen to a featured role in the two-minute drill. "I
stayed positive by going back to my practice-squad mentality,"
says Allen, who caught five passes for 65 yards on Sunday. "I
remembered that I play because I love the game. But maybe this is
making me a more complete player. I used to step into games
pressing. Now I'm more concerned with doing my part."

Allen admits having been disappointed during the Bears' 24-0 win
over the Cincinnati Bengals on Oct. 21. He anticipated a big day,
then watched Thomas break out with a 188-yard rushing
performance, a team record for a rookie. On Sunday, Thomas was at
it again, carrying 31 times for 96 yards and a touchdown and
catching six passes for 71 yards. Not only is the 6'1", 226-pound
Thomas a physical runner, but he also has surprising speed and
exceptional vision.

Thomas is becoming a star in Chicago, but he hardly feels
comfortable in the spotlight. While watching Michigan play
Michigan State last Saturday, he curled up on a recliner in the
basement of his five-bedroom suburban home and talked about how
he would rather crash in front of his 70-inch television after
games than party or do interviews. He and Terrell, another former
Wolverine, have spent many fall Saturday afternoons together in
that basement checking out their old college teammates and
discussing the frustrations that come with being NFL rookies.

"We would sit here and think about all the things we had done in
college," says Thomas. "Then we would question how we were being
used here."

Those times apparently are over for Thomas, but Terrell is still
trying to find his niche. After exchanging hugs with general
manager Jerry Angelo in the locker room on Sunday, Terrell told
his boss that he would like to see the ball more. The eighth
player taken in the draft, Terrell has the potential to become
the team's best playmaker at wide receiver. (Against the 49ers he
caught two touchdown passes.) Until then he will have to savor
his victory guarantee and the stunning way the Bears backed it
up.

"I still can't believe it," said Browns safety Devin Bush. "We
came into their place and handled them, but they squeezed their
way out of it."

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY JONATHAN DANIEL/ALLSPORT Workhorse Thomas's 31 carries against the Browns included this two-yarder in the second quarter that tied the score at seven.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)