Surely the Falcons screwed it up. There was no time on the clock. There couldn’t be. They’d waited too long. Ryan zipped that ball out of there and Jenkins made the catch. I believed that much. But no way they pulled this off. No way they had life. The announcer who screamed “One second left!” must have been mistaken. Or the clock operator was wrong. Cheated maybe. The home-team bump. Or maybe just an honest mistake.
No way there was time on the clock.
There was time on the clock.
The Bears play the Falcons tomorrow, and as always, an upcoming game has me thinking about every other time I’ve watched the Bears play their upcoming opponent. That’s the good and the bad, and in my Bears-Falcons history, nothing is worse than 2008.
A refresher: The Bears and Falcons both entered at 3-2, and after a game dominated by kickers, Jason Elam, who was already 4-for-4, missed a 33-yard field goal that would have given the Falcons a 22-13 lead with just under 3 minutes to play.
Kyle Orton then drove the Bears from our own 23 to the Atlanta 17, and on 3rd and 10 after two incompletions, hooked up with Rashied Davis on a 17-yard over-the-shoulder jump-ball corner route past two defenders for the go-ahead score.
Bears 20, Falcons 19, 11 seconds left.
This was a drive that felt like the dawning of a new era. We’d had a 97-yard game-winning drive the year before against Philly, but that was with 32-year-old Brian Griese under center, and only got us to 3-4 on the year. The Orton drive was all passes, and included three straight passes to gain first downs: 10 yards to Matt Forte, 10 yards to Davis, 17 yards to Devin Hester.
And while Griese capped off the Eagles drive with a relatively simple pass to Muhsin Muhammad (who made a nice, not highlight, grab), Orton’s pass combined with Davis’s catch was the type of play that the Bears NEVER made. Considering degree of difficulty, Orton-Davis ‘08 was better than Harbaugh-Waddle ‘92, Matthews-Conway ‘99, Miller-Terrell ‘02 or Griese-Moose ‘07.
And it’s better than any Bears game-winning pass I’ve seen since: Cutler-Martellus ‘13, Foles-Anthony Miller ‘20, even Cutler-Zach Miller ‘15, just because there was so much less time remaining in the ‘08 game than that incredible Zach Miller catch.
After three years of not totally knowing who our best quarterback was, even when one of them was in the Super Bowl, we all felt as if we finally knew. Kyle Orton could make it happen. We were about to be 4-2.
And it evaporated in three ghastly plays:
- Robbie Gould’s squib kick goes from the Bears 30 to the Falcons 34, and Harry Douglas returns it 10 yards, taking five seconds off the clock.
- Matt Ryan connects with Michael Jenkins on a 26-yard deep post to the Bears 30, taking another five seconds off the clock.
- Jason Elam nails a 48-yard field goal with no time remaining.
Falcons 22, Bears 20.
Yes, there was still time on the clock. It bothers me to this day.
And I like it.
A football team is like a TV show. Every season is a season. Every game is an episode. Sometimes being a Bears fan born after the 1960s feels like being a Simpsons fan born after the 2000s, only if your family birthright decreed that you watch the Simpsons every Sunday, no excuses. Your older relatives parade about their memories of this hysterical, groundbreaking series...
...and you’ve over here spending your life watching seasons 15 to 34, wondering what all the fuss is about.
But a great episode is a great episode, and the 2008 Bears were filled with great episodes, even when they didn’t go our way. Consider these endings, losses first:
- Week 2, Panthers — Bears blow 17-3 3rd quarter lead, who take a 20-17 lead with just under four minutes to play.
- Week 3, Buccaneers — Bears blow 24-14 4th quarter lead to Tampa and Brian Griese, who passes for 407 yards against his former team, ties the game on a TD pass with seven seconds left, setting up a 27-24 OT Bucs win.
- Week 6, Falcons.
But consider these wins!
- Week 7, Vikings — In the highest-scoring Bears-Vikings game ever, the Bears scored touchdowns on a blocked punt return, a muffed punt fumble recovery, an offensive fumble recovery, and locked in the win on Zackary Bowman’s interception with under a minute to go, their fourth pick of the game.
- Week 15, Saints — In a must-win game, the Bears blow a 21-7 halftime lead but drive from the New Orleans 30 to our own 9 to set up a 28-yard game-tying Gould field goal as time expired, winning on a 35-yard Gould field goal in overtime.
- Week 16, Packers — In another must-win game, the Bears kept their playoff hopes alive when Alex Brown blocked Mason Crosby’s 38-yard game-winning attempt with 25 seconds left, and then won in overtime on a 38-yard Gould field goal.
Every Bears season tells a story, and 2008 was the story of chaos. But those back-to-back wins over the Saints and Packers were just as much fun as the back-to-back losses to Carolina and Tampa, while the Packers win was just as maddeningly blissful for us as the Falcons loss was maddeningly agonizing.
You would think I wouldn’t want to think at all about that ‘08 Falcons game, but that’s not the case at all. I’ve sat through so many Bears games in my life that gave me almost nothing as a fan. And along with the memory, a loss like the ‘08 Falcons game sharpens you as a sports fan, reminding you that anything is possible.
By Week 6 of 2008, I’d already lived through so many crazy Bears games, both wins and losses, and the lesson here was, just when you thought you’d seen it all, you see Orton-to-Davis, squib, corner, heartbreak.
And besides, how can I be upset lo these many years later when just three years ago, we were on the opposite end? Remember the Broncos game in 2019? With the Bears up 13-6, Joe Flacco drives the Broncos to the 12, where they do this:
- 4th and 3: 5-yard pass
- 1st and goal from the 7: 7-yard touchdown
- Two-point conversion complete
Mitch Trubisky then took us to the 40 with a 25-yard completion to Allen Robinson. We called timeout with one second remaining. No way there was time on the clock, right?
There was time on the clock.
Eddy Pineiro then drilled a 53-yard field goal with no time remaining.
Bears 16, Broncos 14.
Can’t have one without the other.
Jack M Silverstein is Chicago’s sports historian, Bears historian at Windy City Gridiron, and author of the forthcoming “6 Rings: The Bulls, The City, and the Dynasty that Changed the Game.” His newsletter, “A Shot on Ehlo,” brings readers inside the making of the book, with original interviews, research and essays. Sign up now, and say hey at @readjack.