Bears defense shows up at opportune time
Just when you thought one of the NFL's worst defenses couldn't possibly help win a game, that's exactly what happened for the Bears on Sunday.
It didn't hurt that Baltimore stopped running the football even though the Bears couldn't stop Ray Rice. When the footing and wind favored handing off, as opposed to throwing through an impossible wind, the Ravens continually tried throwing through an impossible wind.
"We kinda knew they couldn't push it down the field with that wind, so it gave us a chance to play them tight," said safety Chris Conte. "The wind was really bad in the second half and they had some success running, so that probably was in our favor when they tried to throw.
"There was just no way to go deep or make those long sideline throws. Wind was way too strong."
For the game, the Ravens were 8-for-18 on third down (44 percent) but failed on their final seven third-down conversion attempts, six through the air. They consistently put themselves in bad situations by throwing early in series instead of continuing to run it down the Bears' throats.
The Bears' defense took full advantage of knowing the Ravens had to pass on third-and-long, while also knowing they couldn't throw it very far.
"The wind was pretty crazy, but the bigger issue was that the ball, every time you got it -- when Gino (Gradkowski) had to snap it out of a divot -- it was either wet or had all kinds of mud on it," said Ravens QB Joe Flacco. "This was an issue with some of the timing stuff, getting a grip on it quick enough.
"If we could sit back there with some time on those rhythm plays, it wasn't too bad. But you guys saw it out there. It was pretty crazy."
When the Ravens watch the tape, they will certainly wonder why they stopped running. When the Bears watch the tape, they will be pleased that a defense missing Charles Tillman, Lance Briggs, Henry Melton, Nate Collins and D.J. Williams was somehow able to get off the field, regardless of how it happened or whether Baltimore helped the effort.
"We played a good game," Conte said. "That's more points than we want to give up, but at the end of the day we won the game. I think we feel pretty good about the game as a defense. We have a lot of work to do, sure, and we have to eliminate penalties.
"But the goal-line stand at the end of regulation was big, and we gave the offense an opportunity to win the game."
Baltimore walked down the field at the end of regulation and was on the Bears' 5 with 1:30 left and two timeouts, needing a field goal to tie and a touchdown to win.
On first down, Conte saved a touchdown when he slid down the line from the left and caught Rice from behind. Conte stopped Rice again on second down, this time from the right side, and Baltimore called its final timeout with 11 seconds remaining.
Poor clock management made it very easy for Bears to defend third-and-goal knowing the Ravens had to throw into the end zone. Another bad snap gave Flacco little time after he dug it out of the mud, and his throw went out of the end zone.
"We knew that was the game," said rookie linebacker Jon Bostic. "That's something you dream about. We have the defense to get it done. We want to be out there making plays."
The Bears then got off the field in OT on third down and Josh McCown led them to victory.
"The wind had to be blowing sideline to sideline," said coach Marc Trestman. "We could not throw the ball, any ball. We were very concerned even about a flip, or even a screen pass because it was coming so hard."
But while the Bears played it smart, the Ravens obviously did not. Maybe their sideline didn't understand, even while the players were acutely aware.
"I've never been on a field that messy and never played in a wind that bad," said Ravens wide receiver Tandon Doss. "There were gusts from every direction all at the same time. It was like a hurricane, swirling every which way. Very difficult to throw the ball."
But at a time when the Bears' defense had been so maligned for so long -- and deservedly so -- it will take whatever help the opposition offers.
"It worked out for us," Conte said. "We needed a game like that. We have a lot of work to do, but we can take a lot of good from that game. We made plays when we needed to, and that gives you a lot of confidence."
Not a moment too soon.
•Hear Barry Rozner on WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.