It must have warmed up since the game started. The temperature posed outside a nearby bank on the way home was 5 degrees. Some quick reactions to the Bears' 20-17 overtime victory that keeps them alive in the playoff hunt heading to Houston on Sunday. This one had shades of 2001 and some of the improbable victories the team pulled out this season. This one had some crazy to it, too, with the coin toss by referee Ron Winter at the start of overtime going off the head of Brian Urlacher.
"I looked at the ground the whole time,'' Urlacher said. "I didn't even see it coming. Shoot, I need to get that guy to throw it at my head every time.''
It looked for 3 1/2 quarters like Bobby Wade was on the money. The ex-Bears wide receiver said Sunday the Bears would blow it and hand his current team, Minnesota, the NFC North crown in the process. That didn't happen. Now, the Vikings must defeat the New York Giants Sunday to ensure they make the playoffs, or hope the Bears don't take care of their business in Houston. To the observations:
1. Matt Forte's hard running in the fourth quarter led to the Bears forcing overtime, but this game wouldn't have come close to overtime had it not been for more standout play by the special teams unit. The three biggest plays of the game came on special teams:
A) The offense produced just 48 yards in the first half but the Bears got 70 yards from shot-out-of-a-cannon return man Danieal Manning on his first kickoff return. Trailing 7-0, Manning blasted up the middle, carrying would-be tacklers for the final 25 yards. That put the offense in position for the only points of the first half--Robbie Gould's 31-yard field goal.
B) Down 14-3 at the start of the third quarter, the offense went three-and-punt but Brad Maynard's kick was short and Rashied Davis managed to block Jarrett Bush into the bouncing ball. Jason Davis covered the muff, setting the offense up on Green Bay's 27-yard line and leading to Kyle Orton's three-yard touchdown toss to Greg Olsen.
C) Alex Brown's block of Mason Crosby's potential game-winning kick with 18 seconds left forced overtime. Brown typically lines up on the left side of the formation but saw a weakness he felt he could exploit on the other side vs, the left guard. He made a swim move, broke through and easily blocked what was a low kick.
Find a way the Bears get through this game without their most consistent phase carrying them through. You can't. And Gould becomes the first kicker to win consecutive games in overtime since 2000.
2. A change in the starting lineup at wide receiver--Brandon Lloyd started for the first time since Week 4 as Rashied Davis was sent to the bench--didn't provide any spark in the offense. Wide receivers combined to make three receptions. The Bears are going to need more offense at Houston in their first regular-season game at Reliant Stadium. The Texans are 5-2 at home and are averaging 25 points in those games. The Texans beat Tennessee at home two weeks ago.
3. How does Green Bay do it? That is the eighth loss this season for the Packers that quarterback Aaron Rodgers has had the ball on a drive with five minutes to play or less and not delivered a victory. Rodgers moved the Packers pretty efficiently most of the game. They get a boneheaded 15-yard penalty on Adrian Peterson to set them up on the Bears' 35-yard line with three minutes to play and do nothing and go nowhere. Coach Mike McCarthy could have been a little more aggressive there. A mid-range field goal in treacherous weather is no sure thing. This is a team that has to address finishing and develop some kind of knockout punch for next season.
4. We didn't mention it above with the special teams, but the Bears' game-tying drive was set up by a 24-yard Devin Hester punt return, his longest of the season. He looked more sure catching the ball and running and more aggressive. Toub remains convinced he will get a touchdown this season. He's down to one game to get it done.
5. More and more Manning is fitting nicely into his role as the nickel cornerback. He's getting better at timing his blitzes and that was evident on a number of occasions, including the time he deflected a Rodgers' pass to Brown for an interception. It was the fifth career pick for Brown, second-most in franchise history as he moved one ahead of legendary tough man Ed Sprinkle. Richard Dent holds the record with eight.
But getting back to Manning ... that individual work he gets on a daily basis with head coach Lovie Smith is paying dividends. Manning is playing with more confidence, he's playing faster and he's making plays all over the field.
Brown's pick gives the Bears a takeaway in 24 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the league.
6. Not sure what Smith was thinking when he challenged a play in the first quarter that a punt hit return man Will Blackmon and was recovered by the Bears inside the five-yard line. Replays clearly showed Blackmon did not touch the ball. The Bears need to get a better look at potential challenges before dropping the red flag.
7. Cornerback Corey Graham had a solid game. He was credited with nine tackles in press box statistics and was good in the open field.
8. The Bears will have to hold their breath with strong safety Mike Brown again. He left the game with a pulled calf muscle for the third time this season and did not return. They need him on the field Sunday at Houston. Rookie Craig Steltz doesn't look to be ready for the role.
9. Stadium cameras caught shots of a few shirtless fans at the game. Have a good time in the sick bay over the holidays.
10. Think the Bears don't know what's at stake and everything that needs to happen? Brown has a message for Giants coach Tom Coughlin, who publicly said he's not certain about what he is going to do with some key starters in his game against the Vikings.
"Please, please Eli [Manning] play four quarters,'' Alex Brown said. ``Please, beat Minnesota. You're going to get a week off [for a first-round bye], so just play the whole game.''
11. And finally, did anyone catch ex-Bears defensive coordinator Greg Blache, now running the defense in Washington? It's only related to the Bears in that the Redskins' 10-3 victory over Philadelphia on Sunday was one of the pieces the Bears needed to fall into place to keep their wild-card hopes alive. The Redskins have been scuffling of late and Blache wanted to get the troops fired up in a meeting the night before the game with a highlight video.
"Like I told them, I thought they needed some emotional and attitudinal Viagra," Blache said. "We needed to get a little spike out of them today."
Mission accomplished. We'd like to see the football video his players were raving about.