CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - They should have been toasted in Champaign. Instead, the Patriots were toasting an improbable 33-30 win over the Bears last night.
Trailing, 27-6, with 6:42 remaining in the third quarter, New England capped its improbable comeback when Tom Brady connected with David Patten, who made an incredibly athletic play on a 20-yard pass in the back of the end zone with 21 seconds remaining.
“To be a champion, you have to win games on the road,” said safety Lawyer Milloy. “After we lost four straight I think we needed to go on the road just to test the heart of this team. I’m proud of the way we battled. We’ve got to stop helping out teams like we did, but we pulled it out.”
The jubilation was obvious as players pumped their fists, waved their helmets, and let out screeches as they headed back to the locker room for Bill Belichick’s postgame words. New England, which came perilously close to dropping to 4-5, is instead 5-4 and tied with Buffalo and Miami in the AFC East with a trip to Oakland on tap for Sunday night.
“That was a wild one,” said Belichick. “I just don’t remember too many games like that. It was a situation where we had to do so many things right in the last 20 minutes. We had to make big play after big play. You really have to give the team credit for fighting. They didn’t give up. We’re glad to get out of here alive.”
Trailing, 30-25, Tedy Bruschi made a huge stop on Anthony Thomas on third and 1 from the Bears’ 36, knocking him back a yard. Troy Brown returned the ensuing punt 11 yards and the Patriots took over at their 44 with 1:50 remaining.
On third and 3 from the Bears’ 30, Tom Brady’s pass intended for tight end Cam Cleeland appeared to be intercepted by Bryan Robinson. Because it was in the final two minutes, the Patriots couldn’t challenge the referee’s ruling, but just before the Bears lined up to run a play, officials called timeout and reviewed the play. It was ruled an incomplete pass because Robinson never had possession before he fumbled.
“I thought he dropped it and juggled it all the way down,” said Belichick. “They almost snapped it before it got reviewed.”
The Patriots maintained possession with 54 seconds left. It was fourth and 3 and Brady made the gutsy call of a quarterback sneak and went over his left guard and dove for the first down.
“I’ve never seen a game-deciding fourth-down play not measured,” said Bears coach Dick Jauron. “It clearly should have been measured. It gave them an extra down and it stopped the clock. I don’t understand how that happens.”
Brady connected with Kevin Faulk (seven catches, 109 yards) for 7 yards before the Bears were forced to call a timeout with 28 seconds remaining because linebacker Rosevelt Colvin failed to get back onside. Brady, 36 for 55 and 328 yards, found Patten deep in the end zone on the next play.
And that was it.
The Patriots had held off the Bears and their one-man wrecking crew named Brian Urlacher, who made nine tackles, intercepted a pass, defended three passes, and was just plain intimidating all day.
The Patriots actually looked finished when Urlacher made a great play to intercept a Brady pass intended for Troy Brown. The Bears took over at the New England 36, then got 34 yards on a nifty draw by Thomas, who scored on the next play with 6:42 remaining in the third quarter for a 27-6 lead.
The Patriots began their comeback on the next series. In 3:38, the Patriots drove 75 yards with Brady utilizing Faulk, who sandwiched a 6-yard run between a pair of 15-yard catches, the second one cutting the deficit to 27-13.
On their ensuing drive, the Bears made the curious call of throwing downfield. It was curious because quarterback Jim Miller, who replaced Chris Chandler (neck strain), was in obvious pain when he threw.
On first and 15 from the 27, Miller (shoulder and elbow tendinitis) threw a weak pass down field that was picked off by Otis Smith at the Bears’ 47 and returned to the 25. The Bears’ defense held, and the Patriots settled for Adam Vinatieri’s 42-yard field goal, making it 27-16.
The momentum had clearly shifted as the Bears’ defense, which had been stout for 2 1/2 quarters, began to wear down.
The Patriots started their next drive at the 39 with 46 seconds remaining in the third quarter. The Patriots made six first downs before again settling for a Vinatieri field goal (his fourth) making it 27-19.
The Bears answered with a decent drive, covering 38 yards on nine plays, capped by Paul Edinger’s 32-yard field goal that clanged off the upright.
Brady then led the Patriots on a calm and efficient 63-yard drive, completing 5 of 7 passes, the final one a 36-yard scoring strike to Faulk. On the conversion rush, Faulk was stopped by Urlacher and New England trailed, 30-25.
The Bears had scored three touchdowns at the start of the second half to take what appeared to be an insurmountable lead.
The scores came from Stanley Pritchett (11-yard pass from Miller), Marcus Robinson (44-yard pass from receiver Marty Booker), and Thomas (2-yard run).
The teams exchanged a pair of field goals in the first half, highlighted by Vinatieri’s 57-yarder, which topped his own team record by 2 yards.