The fourteenth week of the National Football League season in 2018 turned out to be a major turning point in the fortunes of the Chicago Bears. Coming into the week, Matt Nagy’s team had the challenge of facing the team with the best record in football and off a loss holding a less than secure position of first place in the NFC North Division.
In a pair of primetime telecasts, the Bears prospects of winning their division after four straight last place finishes in the NFC North, took a jump like the temperatures in Arizona in August. The Bears defense showed a national television audience on Sunday night that they might well be the class of the league. What the Los Angeles Rams were able to do against every other opponent they met this year, score at least 23 points a game, and come into the week equal with the New Orleans Saints for the highest scoring offense in the NFC, 419 points, was stifled by Khalil Mack and company.
The Rams were limited to a pair of field goals as Chicago won a game the late George Halas would have been proud of, 15-6.
Chicago’s Sunday night win added to their edge over the second place Minnesota Vikings, and last night’s Seattle win over Mike Zimmer’s team, moved Chicago’s margin over second place in the NFC North to 2½ games. Now all the Bears have to do is win any of their final three games to lock up their first division title since 2010. That year, ironically, the Bears won the NFC North Division by a game over the Green Bay Packers, but Aaron Rodgers and the Pack beat the Bears in the NFC Championship Game and went on to win Super Bowl XLV over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The top spot for home field advantage in the NFC also had an eventful week this past Sunday. The New Orleans Saints gained revenge for an opening day loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 28-14, and coupled with the Rams defeat at Soldier Field, Los Angeles fell behind the Saints in the NFC for the number one seed.
In the American Football Conference, the magic of second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes wrote another chapter as he engineered a late come-from-behind touchdown to tie the game at the end of regulation and the Kansas City Chiefs downed the visiting Baltimore Ravens in overtime. The win, coupled with the New England Patriots improbable loss at Miami to the Dolphins, pushed the Chiefs advantage in the hunt for the top seed in the division to two games over both the Patriots and Houston Texans. The Texans had their nine game winning streak snapped by Andrew Luck and his Indianapolis Colts.
The Patriots loss in Miami was the result of something we very seldom get to report, bad coaching by Bill Belichick. With a first and goal in the waning minute, set up by a pass interference call against the Dolphins at the seven-yard line, the Patritos were almost certain not to find a way to lose. But, while New England led by two points, the Patriots may have already begun plans for this week’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Because, the reliable strategy of Belichick, took a rain check on intelligence in this one.
After three plays and the game clock ticking off, the Patriots called a time out to avoid a 5-yard delay of game penalty with 21 seconds left and then met to consider a field goal to advance their lead from two points to five points.
What? I thought watching the game. What does Belichick know than I don’t, which is usually a very good bet on his side. I thought, why not go for the touchdown with 21 second left, if you punch it in, game, set, match. Even if New England gets stopped, the Dolphins are now backed up to their goal line with 16 seconds left in the game without a time out.
Instead, Belichick, to my surprise, kicked the field goal to advance the Patriots lead from two to five points and kicked off with less than 20 seconds remaining in the game. Now, with a five point lead, the Dolphins would need a touchdown to win, but once you start kicking the ball in play a lot of funny things can happen. A football is not round.
After the kickoff was returned to the 31 yard line, the Dolphins were left with 7 second and 69 yards from victory.
The next big error the Patriots employed was having Ron Gronkowski as a last line of defense on the final play. Gronkowski is used as a defender when their opponent is expected to use a Hail Mary pass, his height in the endzone and pass catching skills are a perfect weapon against the success of such a play.
But, the Dolphins were 69 yards away from the end zone, and no one can pass a ball that far so what Gronkowski was left with was the need to make a game saving tackle on an elusive runner … not his strength.
Take a moment, bow your head, and realize that Belichick blew it. If you don’t like him, don’t like the Patriots, and we know there are a lot of those fans out there, this is a rare moment to celebrate their inept decisions along with Miami fans enjoying the final play 69-yard hook-and-ladder winning touchdown.