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Sometimes it comes down to a little luck


Sometimes, it takes more than big plays, timely defense or brilliant strategy to win on any given Sunday. Sometimes, it takes a fair share of luck in conjunction with some portion of the above.

What happened in Chicago and Pittsburgh in Week 8 best illustrates the point.

The Ravens absolutely stole a 13-10 victory in Pittsburgh on Sunday when they turned another kicker to mush. Kris Brown missed four field-goal tries, the Steelers had a critical defensive penalty when Aaron Smith inadvertently grabbed quarterback Randall Cunningham's face mask, and Ravens wide-out Brandon Stokley got a fortuitous bounce on an end-around fumble in a scoring drive.

That's how you win with an offense that couldn't break 200 yards.

In Chicago, meanwhile, the Bears took that formula to the extreme. Their 27-21 overtime victory over the Cleveland Browns was nothing if not eerie.

Chicago won virtually the same way it won the week before against San Francisco. In Week 7, the Bears scored two touchdowns in the final 4:08 to force overtime, when safety Mike Brown intercepted a deflected pass and scored the game-winner.

In Week 8 against Cleveland, the Bears scored two touchdowns in the final 28 seconds of regulation, and won in overtime, when Brown intercepted another deflected pass to score the game-winner.

Getting to overtime on Sunday, though, required a little more magic. It required a successful onside kick after the touchdown that cut the deficit to 21-14. In a marathon tussle, the Bears' Bobbie Howard wound up with the ball after who knows how many possession changes.

It also required an immaculate reception of a Hail Mary pass. Running back James Allen made that catch of a 34-yard pass from quarterback Shane Matthews. The pass was tipped by the Browns' Percy Ellsworth in the end zone, and Allen, trailing the play, made a diving, uncontested catch. As fate would have it, three Cleveland defenders jumped for the ball and none bothered to account for Allen.

Said Bears coach Dick Jauron: "Shane [Matthews] threw the ball where he was supposed to. But you've got to have your stars lined up and somebody looking out for you to have it bounce the way it did."

After one final bounce of the ball - a Tim Couch pass off the hands of defensive end Bryan Robinson into the arms of Mike Brown - the Bears were not only talking about the playoffs, they were talking about destiny and the Super Bowl.

Destiny's child?

Since a 17-6 loss in Baltimore in Week 1, the Bears haven't lost. They rallied from 10 points down to beat Minnesota a week later, 19 down to beat San Francisco and 14 down to beat Cleveland. They should be 4-3, but are 6-1 going into Sunday's NFC Central showdown against Green Bay.

A fifth-place schedule and a good defense could get the Bears to the postseason. But don't think they're a fluke. Ravens coach Brian Billick said last week that he thought the Bears had no worse than the third-best defensive talent in the league - and that was before the Ravens played them. They've only gotten better.

Home-field disadvantage

For all the emphasis on playing at home, consider the New York Jets and the New Orleans Saints. They're both road warriors, but something less in friendly environs.

In 1 1/2 seasons under coach Jim Haslett, the Saints are 10-2 on the road, but only 4-7 at home. Their ugly 16-9 home loss to the Jets Sunday night dropped them to 1-2 this year at the Superdome, the site of this season's Super Bowl.

Under new coach Herman Edwards, the Jets are 4-0 on the road this season, and only 1-3 at home.

Comebacks du jour

Five double-digit leads were wasted in Week 8, a circumstance that has reached epidemic status in the never-say-die NFL.

The Dallas Cowboys squandered the biggest lead of the day - 17 points - in a 27-24 overtime loss to the New York Giants. Cleveland blew a 14-point lead with 30 seconds left. Tampa Bay led Green Bay by 10 in the third quarter and lost, 21-20. Jacksonville had a 10-point second-quarter lead before losing to Tennessee, 28-24. And Detroit let a 10-point first-half lead against the 49ers evaporate in a 21-13 loss.

Ugly offense

Three teams failed to generate 200 yards in net offense this week, and only one of them - the Ravens, with 183 yards - survived the tepid attack. The Bucs had 194 total yards, including 61 rushing yards, in their loss to the Packers.

The worst offensive performance of the day, however, belonged to the winless Lions, who had just 131 yards against the 49ers. (The season low is 127 yards by Dallas in Week 1 against Tampa Bay.) Detroit's only touchdown was a 74-yard interception return by former Ravens cornerback Robert Bailey.

Owens gives approval

A week after he was moved to criticize the play-calling in a 19-point collapse at Chicago, wide receiver Terrell Owens was satisfied that the 49ers kept pressing the Lions. "It wasn't a blowout, but we were still aggressive with the game plan," said Owens, who did his part with nine catches for 125 yards and two touchdowns.

Even with an eight-point lead in the fourth quarter, the 49ers were still throwing the ball deep.

The 49ers were selective in the running game, too. Of their 30 rushes - discounting scrambles - 27 either went up the middle or to the left, where tackle Derrick Deese was matched against undersized defensive end Tracy Scroggins, a converted linebacker.

Good, bad, ugly

The good: The Bears were coolly efficient in a remarkable comeback against Cleveland. After cutting the deficit to 21-14, the Bears executed an onside kick and a Hail Mary touchdown pass in the final 28 seconds of regulation to force overtime, then won it on a deflected pass returned for another TD.

The bad: The Browns' defense of the Hail Mary pass included three defenders jumping for the ball, leaving no one to block out oncoming receiver James Allen, who made a diving catch.

The ugly: The face mask-grabbing, helmet-throwing incident at the end of the Jets-Saints game that aborted a Saints comeback and ended with Saints OT Kyle Turley ejected. Turley lost control after Jets S Damien Robinson grabbed the face mask of QB Aaron Brooks in a pile and twisted his head vigorously.

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