One stop. That's all the Bears needed.
A defense that created four turnovers and helped make New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning look like a third-stringer for much of the day needed one final stand to assure back-to-back wins for the first time this season.
Woulda, coulda, shoulda.
As poorly as Manning played for three quarters, he was calm enough to march his team 77 yards in nine plays with less than five minutes remaining, the drive ending with Reuben Droughns' game-winning 2-yard touchdown run.
How the Giants (8-4) defeated the Bears 21-16 Sunday at Soldier Field is puzzling considering how thoroughly the Bears were in control for most of the game. But that last drive erased the Giants' previous mistakes, spoiled a solid, turnover-free effort by Rex Grossman and a good one by Robbie Gould and left the Bears (5-7) with few postseason hopes.
"When the Giants are marching up and down the field," cornerback Trumaine McBride said, "it's definitely frustrating."
McBride, a rookie, wasn't exactly the goat Sunday, but he was definitely victimized on one play of the Giants' final drive. With 2 minutes 20 seconds left and the Giants facing second-and-6 from the Bears' 41-yard line, McBride slipped in zone coverage and allowed receiver David Tyree to get by him. Tyree caught Manning's short pass and brought the ball to the 17 for a 24-yard pickup.
"He didn't get behind me," McBride said. "He ran like a 5-yard curl. Eli started scrambling, and he dumped it off to him.''
Danieal Manning, the free safety, blitzed on the play.
"They had enough guys in there blocking," Danieal Manning said. "Eli just moved to my left and threw the ball. In zone pressure, the pressure's got to get there. We should have made him throw the ball out faster or got the sack. Those were two results that didn't happen."
Eli Manning followed with a 15-yard over-the-middle strike to Plaxico Burress. Then Droughns ended the drive by walking into the end zone.
The Bears should not have needed their defense to bail them out. The offense seemed rejuvenated by a newly installed no-huddle scheme and was flowing behind Grossman. He completed his first eight passes and was 17-for-26 for 218 yards and a touchdown in the first half despite five sacks.
But in the second half Grossman completed just eight of his 20 throws as the Bears went away from the no-huddle. He finished 25-for-46 for 296 yards, one touchdown and an 81.4 passer rating.
Grossman had no choice but to go no-huddle on the game's final drive, when he moved the Bears from their own 41 to the Giants' 28, hitting Muhsin Muhammad for 20 yards on a fourth-and-15 play to keep the Bears alive. He then missed on two last-ditch shots at the end zone and had a third batted down as time expired.
"There were opportunities to make plays that we just didn't make," Grossman said. "For whatever reason, we didn't make them in the second half especially."
The Bears were opportunistic at the start, turning a Brian Urlacher interception on the game's first possession into a 79-yard scoring drive. Grossman completed it with a 1-yard flip to tight end Desmond Clark in the back of the zone.
Grossman should have had a second touchdown pass a few minutes into the second quarter when he fired the ball 60-plus yards through the air to a streaking Devin Hester, catching the speedster in perfect stride. But Hester let the ball glance off his shoulder pad, failing to complete what would have been an 81-yard score.
That missed opportunity hurt the Bears when the Giants scored on the ensuing possession, a 2-yard touchdown run by Derrick Ward, who scorched the Bears for 154 yards on 24 carries before departing with a fractured leg.
The Bears held a 13-7 halftime edge thanks to the Clark touchdown and Gould's field goals of 35 and 46 yards. Gould's third field goal, a 41-yarder into the wind, made it 16-7 early in the third quarter after Adewale Ogunleye forced and recovered a Ward fumble.
All signs were pointing the Bears' way when Charles Tillman intercepted a pass intended for Burress in the end zone late in the third quarter, negating the Giants' best drive of the day to that point. But rather than stay aggressive and in charge on offense, the Bears went three-and-out on their next two possessions.
The Giants closed the gap to 16-14 when Manning found Amani Toomer on a 6-yard touchdown pass with 6:59 left. The play was originally ruled no catch as Toomer scooped it while falling to the ground.
"Thank goodness we had our challenge to use," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "There was no way we were not going to use it."
The Bears, meanwhile, can use some help. Winning their final four games would get them to nine wins and a possible wild-card berth, but winning four straight is a tall order for a team that hasn't won two in a row all season.
"I know we don't control our own destiny," Grossman said. "I'm not sure, mathematically, how this whole thing works out. Had we won out, we would have been going to the playoffs.
"Until we're mathematically out of it we're going to keep fighting. We're going to keep fighting, regardless."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun