Forgive them for acting a little silly. For offering up metaphors for life. And crediting a change to green Gatorade from orange. For sprawling on the Soldier Field turf when the day was over and making grass angels until they didn't know whether to laugh or to cry.
Winning made children of them all.
"Who's to say we can't win the rest now?" sputtered Bears defensive end Mark Thomas. "It's possible."
Who's to argue that anything isn't possible after the Bears lost five fumbles Sunday afternoon, trailed by 17 in the fourth quarter and still defeated the Detroit Lions 31-27 for their biggest come-from-behind win in 11 years and their first victory in five games this season?
"It's a good starting point," said the Bears' Shawn Lee of a game in which the Bears scored three straight fourth-quarter touchdowns to win, "a point where you can forget everything that has happened."
While they're at it, they might want to forget Sunday's first three quarters. It was at that point that the Bears had all but stopped the great Barry Sanders, dominated in time of possession, had killer field position all day, sacked Detroit quarterback Charlie Batch twice--and were utterly frustrated.
"That could have broken us," offensive lineman Chris Villarrial agreed.
That was what Erik Kramer called later "the same old story." It was a 17-point deficit after a 10-10 halftime tie, which brought the season third-quarter tally to 61-0 in favor of Bears opponents.
The Lions scored two touchdowns and a field goal in the third quarter--10 of those points coming off consecutive Bears fumbles by rookie tight end Alonzo Mayes, following a 16-yard reception, and by Kramer on a corner blitz and resulting sack.
Batch followed Mayes' fumble with a 40-yard pass to Johnnie Morton to the Bears' 1-yard line, setting up a 1-yard plunge by fullback Tommy Vardell. Kramer's miscue, recovered by linebacker Stephen Boyd at the Bears' 41, led to a 43-yard field goal by Jason Hanson to expand the Lions' lead to 27-10.
But that was when the Bears suddenly decided to stop letting every NFL bully kick sand in their faces.
"I don't know what happened to Kramer at the end," said Lions corner Bryant Westbrook. "I think he was just feeling really good."
What Kramer was feeling, apparently, was just angry enough at having lost all six previous starts against his former team. "After a while," he said, "you wonder if you're ever going to get over the hump."
A nine-play, 75-yard drive that began in the closing minutes of the third quarter and concluded in the fourth saved the Bears' ebbing hopes. It was a drive that epitomized the Bears' game plan, equal parts pass and run, and ultimately symbolized the day with the overlooked Edgar Bennett--getting extra time in the absence of an injured Curtis Enis--connecting on an 18-yard touchdown pass to Chris Penn, filling in for the inactive Curtis Conway.
"We had it in the game plan for a couple weeks. We were just trying to find the right time to use it," said Penn, who finished the day with a career-high 106 yards on six catches and a touchdown. "I guess we felt there was no better time than the present, and it worked out fine."
The Bears held the suddenly mistake-prone Lions to three-and-out on the next two possessions and Sanders to minus-4 yards on just one carry in the fourth (he was held to 28 overall), and they finally found themselves with some late momentum and the will to do something with it.
After the Lions' first possession of the fourth quarter, the Bears drove 72 yards in 13 plays, eating up 6:33 and closing to three points down at 27-24 when Fabien Bownes twisted between two defenders to grab a slightly underthrown 6-yard Kramer pass in the end zone.
The big deal, said Bears coach Dave Wannstedt, was not his team's ability to move the ball downfield without Conway, who left last week's game against Minnesota with a groin injury. "I think it was a big deal being able to score when the pressure was on," he said. "We haven't done that, obviously all year."
The game-winning drive, starting on the Bears' 42 with 3:18 left, featured a 37-yard pass to Penn that brought them to the Lions' 1, where Kramer dove in on the following play.
"It's obviously a big emotional hurdle to get over for a team to know you can be down and battle through the odds and overcome it all at the end," Kramer said. "Now that we've proved to ourselves we can win a game, hopefully it won't have to be this dramatic every week, but we know we're good enough to keep doing this and keep being productive. We just have to eliminate a lot of the costly mistakes that are putting us in a hole."
The danger, of course, is that somehow these goofy, whatever-can-go-wrong-will-go-wrong Bears will somehow become cocky after this. Or maybe that's not a danger at all.
"I hate to say this," said Thomas, "but it's almost like it's good that (the victory) happened this way because in the past when bad things happened, it seemed like maybe we didn't dig deep down and find that extra little bit it took to win the game."
What the victory accomplished, it seems, more than giving the Bears a 1-4 record, was simply keeping them from 0-5.
"If we go 0-5, we're really in trouble," said tackle Jim Flanigan. "Now there's a ray of hope for us. We've got some games that we can win (four out of their next five are against teams with losing records). We're going to concentrate on Arizona, but we can get this thing turned around. Not to look ahead or anything, but if we can go into the bye week at 4-4, we'll be right back in it."
Far-fetched? "As a team, we're learning how to win," said tackle Mike Wells. "Winning is as much a habit as losing is, and we have to break that losing habit. Some people have trouble not eating or quitting smoking, and we could have gotten into that same old habit of losing. But we did what it took today. We fought hard, we never gave up, we made the momentum swing, and that's so huge in football."
"I think this is going to be a turning point for this team," said offensive lineman Todd Perry. "We just weren't going to let it keep happening."
bears 31, lions 27