It had all the earmarks of December contest between a team trying to make the playoffs and a team already done for the year, when you get teams with nothing to lose beating teams with everything to lose.
The key there is to remind a team like the winless New York Giants that they have nothing to play for by putting the game away early.
The Bears couldn’t do that, so it was tight to the end before the Giants (0-6) finally acquiesced and the Bears (4-2) got back in the win column with a 27-21 victory at Soldier Field on Thursday night.
The game was not without its drama — as it held the Bears’ focus until Eli Manning threw his third interception with two minutes left — but the drama didn’t come in the form of Brandon Marshall, who was back as the focus for Jay Cutler and happy as a diva receiver can be with 11 targets and 9 catches for 87 yards with 2 TDs.
But there was drama on the sideline.
With 5:12 left in the first half and the Bears up 21-14, Robbie Gould squibbed a kickoff up the middle to the goal line, where the Giants’ Jerrel Jernigan returned it 46 yards. It was an odd choice by the Bears considering Gould can bury just about every kickoff, but what happened next was even more bizarre.
Devin Hester came over and had words with Gould, presumably about the strategy of that kick, and the two yelled at each other for a few moments before being separated by teammates.
One could imagine Hester questioning Gould about that decision, and Gould telling Hester not to run out kicks from deep in the end zone, to mind his own business and worry about his own game, which isn’t very effective anymore.
After Gould nailed a field goal with two ticks left on the first-half clock to extend the Bears’ lead to 24-14, Gould kicked off and time ran out on the half, at which point Gould went straight to Hester on the sideline, gave him a hug and patted him on the back.
“I let my emotions get the best of me. I was at fault,” Gould said. “I was the wrong party in that one. Once it was over, it was over. We’re not worried about it. It’s like fighting with your little brother. There’s no hard feelings.”
But it appeared to be mostly a one-sided affair for two teammates patching things up, as Gould did all the talking and Hester looked as cold as ice.
“We were just firing each other up,” Hester said. “Heat of the moment. We’re competitive guys.”
As for the game itself, the hapless Giants came in with a league-worst minus-13 in turnover differential, and Manning quickly lived up to his billing as the QB most likely to give a game away in 2013.
On the first New York possession, Manning felt the blitz from nickel back Isaiah Frey and threw it behind Rueben Randle and into the arms of Zack Bowman, who returned it 24 yards to the Giants’ 12.
The Bears’ drive stalled at the 4 after they went for it on fourth down, but Manning did not disappoint four plays later when he threw it right to Tim Jennings, who could have crawled the 48 yards to the end zone.
On another blitz, Manning read it hot, but Randle didn’t break off the route and was sprinting down the sideline 25 yards away when Jennings returned it for a pick-6, the 11th for the Bears in the last 22 games.
The Giants remained in the game and had the ball down to the Bears’ 35, trailing by 6 points with 2:02 remaining, when Manning threw his third interception of the night. It was the 23rd turnover for New York, which had 21 all last season, and the 15th pick for Manning, who had 15 in 2012.
“They were 0-5 and we knew we were gonna get their best,” Cutler said. “We feel good about the win, but we leave feeling a little unsatisfied.”
ŸHear Barry Rozner on WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.