A recap from the Lions vs Cardinals game – September 8th…
and Bears vs Broncos game – September 15th…
I thought the thrilling NFL opener between the Lions and the Cardinals was as exciting as it gets.
My Fox NFL crew witnessed a tremendous comeback by Kyler Murray and the Redbirds, down 24-6 in the fourth quarter, to send the game into overtime, which ended in a tie. What a way to start the new season.
Was I ever wrong.
Week two topped that.
We were in Denver for the battle between the Chicago Bears and the Broncos.
Who knew, that when it was all over, this game would go down as the most bizarre and unpredictable finish you could imagine.
First, the set-up.
Going in, there was a built-in headline, featuring the respective head coaches, as well as the Bears place-kicking dilemma.
Last season, the Bears surprised the football world by turning a 2017, 5-win season into a division title. Matt Nagy, in his first year as Chicago’s head coach guided a long-time under-achieving squad to a 12-4 campaign.
The Bears lost in their wild-card playoff game to the Eagles when their kicker missed a makeable field goal, which would have advanced the Bears to the next round.
Throughout the off-season Chicago’s kicking situation was the prime topic of concern with the team, and the conversation in the Windy City.
In camp, nine prospects were brought in to compete for the job after Cody Parkey, who had that crucial attempt in the playoffs, tipped, and bounced off the goal post and the cross-bar, was released.
The competition was intense.
Finally, the Bears made a trade with the Raiders, for Eddy Pineiro, who had been injured, and never really had a chance to prove himself in Oakland.
However, front and center, in this matchup was the reunion of Nagy, the Bears head coach, and first-year head coach Vic Fangio, now leading the Broncos.
Fangio, a year ago, was Nagy’s defensive coordinator. Fangio, who spent four seasons in Chicago, was the mastermind of what had become the best defensive unit in the league.
Now they were going to match wits in the season’s second game.
This would be the ultimate chess game. Nagy, who had developed into one of the premier play-callers on offense, versus the brilliance of Fangio, established over several decades of coaching some of the finest defensive units, and players the game has seen.
The two were obviously close, often texting each other. But not this week.
Nagy is a young 41, but Fangio, at the age of 61, had given up his dream of ever becoming a head coach.
Not one to campaign for jobs, Fangio told me he either didn’t fit the profile of what teams were seeking to lead their clubs, or was not connected with Super Bowl champions.
But he was a proven successful defensive coach for 32 years in the NFL.
Then, his big break came about when the great quarterback John Elway, now running the Broncos football operation, interviewed him and hired him as head coach.
In this game, Fangio, not only knew the personnel of his former team’s defensive unit, he was well-aware of the strengths and weaknesses of Nagy’s offense, particularly, the quarterback Mitch Trubisky, who had a rocky opening game against the Packers.
The trademark of the rich history of the Chicago Bears franchise has been one of first-rate defensive play, centered around some of the finest linebackers ever to play the game, and the lack of star quarterbacks, who would hold back the offense.
Thus, the deep-seated feeling that Trubisky was simply another, in a long-line of QB’s who would ultimately fall short.
The Broncos have had a quarterback issue since the departure of Peyton Manning who engineered Denver’s last Super Bowl triumph following the 2015 season.
Various signal-callers have come and gone. But a deal with the Baltimore Ravens for veteran Joe Flacco, himself a former Super Bowl champion quarterback, was seen as the best opportunity for the Broncos to become relevant once again.
The Bears-Broncos duel was the home opener for the Broncs, who always have an advantage. The altitude.
They don’t call it the Mile High for nothing. To get into visiting teams’ heads, there is a huge sign directly outside the visitors’ locker room, indicating that the players are competing 5,280-feet above sea level. Thin air. Tougher to breathe.
Fatigue could set in. Then other signs, warning the athletes to hydrate, or else.
It can get into your head.
Thus, the Broncos, who had won seven consecutive opening games, and 17 of 18 openers in their stadium, had an edge.
Then, the game.
The first half was a defensive struggle. The Bears led 6-3, in a contest with no touchdowns, only field goals.
Pineiro, the Bears’ kicker, was successful from 40, and 52 yards. The altitude would be a positive for him.
In the first 30 minutes,Trubisky played better than he had against Green Bay, but still no touchdowns.
Flacco couldn’t get his team into the end-zone either, a testimony to the superb defense he was facing.
It was clear that the battle would be a stark contrast between the Chicago running game, and the Denver passing attack.
The Bears finally ended the touchdown drought late in the third quarter with a one-yard touchdown run on third down by talented rookie David Montgomery. That made the score, 13-3.
As was the case in the captivating deadlock in the desert the week before, the unforgettable moments happened late in the game.
Early in the final quarter, the Broncos settled for a field goal to cut the deficit to a touchdown.
With just outside two minutes to go, the Broncos, faced with fourth down and 10 just inside Chicago territory called their final time-out. The game was on the line. It was the first of several “final hope” situations both teams faced.
Flacco passed for a first down to keep Denver’s chances alive.
The only way the clock could stop for the Broncos would be at the 2-minute warning.
The Bears were aware that Joe Flacco is a veteran quarterback who had brought his former team, the Ravens, to victory, after trailing, in the final moments.
For Flacco, he had much to prove.
Last season, the Ravens benched their starter for the final six games. Flacco had been injured and missed time earlier in the year. But Baltimore decided to cast their fate with their first-round draft choice Lamar Jackson, an exciting run-first QB. Flacco had to endure being the backup, despite still being in his prime.
Jackson, despite his inexperience, led the Ravens to the playoffs.
But Flacco had to bury his disappointment, and played his team-first attitude to the hilt.
Not many in his position would have done the same.
As it’s turned out Lamar Jackson has improved his passing skills and has led the Ravens to impressive wins in the first two games of this season.
But none of this affects Joe Flacco, looking to show he still had the stuff of a champion.
The previous Sunday, Flacco completed the drive with a touchdown pass from 7 yards to Emmanuel Sanders to bring the Broncos to 13-12. There were 31 seconds remaining. An extra-point kick would tie the game, and likely send the contest to overtime.
Would our group broadcast two overtime games in two weeks? (We don’t get paid extra for overtime).
But Vic Fangio, who promised his team he would always go for the win, decided to attempt a 2-point conversion.
A play run from the 2-yard line which would either give his team a one-point lead if successful, or leave his team still down one, if unsuccessful. Again, the game was on the line.
But a delay of game penalty was called against the Broncos making a 2-point conversion unwise.
Now, Fangio decided a kick to tie the game was the only way to go.
The real drama was just beginning.
Incredibly, the normally reliable kicker Brandon McManis missed the extra-point try which would have tied the game.
The Bears still led by one.
But wait! Hold the celebration if you were the Bears.
An off-side penalty moved the ball to the one-yard line and gave Denver another chance.
Fangio now decided once-again to try for two points to either take the lead or fall short .
Yes, the game was indeed on the line. Once more.
This time, Flacco found Sanders again. The 2-point try was good, and the Broncos had the lead by a point.
Remember all this happened with 31 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.
Now the Bears, and Trubisky had to try to get into field goal range for one last gasp for their new kicker,
Eddy Pineiro, to try to win it. The pressure on the quarterback and the kicker would be immense.
Fortunately, the Bears still had one time-out left. And how significant it would prove to be.
Starting from their 25, Trubisky completed a short 5-yard pass, but the officials called a roughing-the-passer penalty on Bradley Chubb of the Broncos. NFL officials are urged to protect the quarterback from injury at all costs, but the call was a bad one. Questionable at best. A big break for the Bears. Really unfortunate for the Broncos.
Following three incomplete passes and a penalty against Chicago, the Bears were faced with one last shot at getting the ball in position for a long field goal try by Pineiro.
It was fourth down, nine seconds on the clock, the Bears needed about 20 yards. They did have that one time out.
But they also needed a lot of yards and not much time to get it.
Did I say the game was on the line?
On the ensuing play, Mitch Trubisky had to use precious seconds moving and waiting for a receiver to get open. He did. Trubisky found the reliable Allen Robinson open down the middle, and fired a pass. Complete for 25 yards. The clock was running. Trubisky managed to call that last, valuable time out with :01 on the clock. That’s one second.
Enter Eddy Pineiro, who had been perfect in this young season, and connected from 52 yards earlier.
All of that was meaningless now.
Why? Because now, the game was REALLY on the line.
Pineiro, who was born in Miami to Cuban and Nicaraguan immigrants, and whose father came to the United States from Cuba at the age of 9 during the Mariel boatlift in 1980, was squarely in the spotlight.
His try would be from 53 yards. No gimme. The snap, the hold, the kick. Perfect.
The Bears won. The team swarmed the field, leaping for joy. They mobbed their new kicker.
Chicago had beaten the Broncos in Denver, where victories were taken for granted in their home openers.
Heartbreak for Vic Fangio, losing to his former team, and still looking for his first win as a head coach.
Survival for the Bears who won their first game of the season.
But the nerve-wracking events in the final minute were unmatched for excitement and drama.
I had never witnessed those kind of bizarre moments in such a short period of time at the end.
In reflection, that game was why we do what we do.
LEADERSHIP • A WINNING ATTITUDE • INSPIRATION • TEAMWORK
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