LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 23: D.J. Moore #30 of the Chicago Bears celebrates Anthony Walters #37 of the Chicago Bears after he makes a game winning interception during the NFL International Series match between Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Wembley Stadium on October 23, 2011 in London, England. This is the fifth occasion where a regular season NFL match has been played in London. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Updated: November 25, 2011 8:18AM
LONDON – The idea was for the NFL to attract foreign fans, not scare them away, right?
Well, that was the big-picture idea, at least. The smaller, parochial, Chicago-centric idea was for the Bears to win a football game, and that’s what they did Sunday. It didn’t matter whether they were jet-lagged or sleep-deprived because whatever they were, Tampa Bay’s issues trumped all.
Thanks to D.J. Moore’s interception in the final minute, the Bears were able to extract a 24-18 victory from a game that was all thumbs.
If I told you that the fans at Wembley Stadium seemed more excited about a squirrel that ran onto the field in the first quarter, you’d accuse me of not keeping my eye on the prize, which was a Bears’ win. So I won’t. I will tell you the fans were extremely impressed by a fleshy fellow who ran shirtless around the field in the fourth quarter until security tackled him.
That’s called being a discriminating crowd, not know-nothing Brits. You had to be a Bears fan to truly appreciate the rest of the action. In one Buccaneers series in the first quarter, there were five penalties – three by Tampa Bay. For good measure, or bad, Bears safety Chris Harris dropped a sure interception somewhere in there.
Then there was a sequence of events in the fourth quarter that might have made a few recent converts to football go back to soccer. Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher intercepted a Josh Freeman pass, then fumbled the ball, which the Bucs recovered. There was also a facemask penalty against Tampa Bay. The Bears challenged the fumble and got the ball back – and the penalty yardage.
“It was very confusing,’’ Urlacher said.
Two plays later, Jay Cutler threw an interception.
After taking a 21-5 lead, the Bears let the Bucs back into the game, which is surprising, seeing as how Freeman threw four interceptions and Tampa Bay rushed for only 30 yards. It shouldn’t have been this close, but it was. In the end, you say, “So what?’’ The victory is the thing.
The Bears arrived here Friday, four days later than the Buccaneers had, and it led to much discussion about who had made the right decision. Would jet lag be a factor for the Bears? Or would Tampa Bay be out of sorts from being away from home so long?
The final answer was that none of it mattered; both teams played poorly. Several Bears, including Moore, said they were tired before kickoff. But he was the one who saved the game, and they were the team that won it.
More than jet leg, what almost did in the Bears on Sunday was their pass happiness as they clung to a 21-18 lead. The Bears took over with seven minutes, 17 seconds left after a Freeman touchdown pass. This is where the team with the lead and the ball goes Tea Party conservative, right? Instead, Cutler threw seven straight passes, and the Bears ended up settling for a Robbie Gould field goal.
To that point, Matt Forte had rushed for 145 yards on 25 carries. The Bucs hadn’t stopped him all night.
Asked what the Bears were thinking down the stretch, coach Lovie Smith said, “I thought we were trying to put points on the board late. You’d like to have a couple of those plays back but what you can’t do is stop playing.’’
However dumb the Bears might have looked on offense toward the end, they made the Bucs look dumber by comparison.
“We played un-smart,’’ is how Tampa Bay coach Raheem Morris put it.
This was a big game for the 4-3 Bears, who needed a victory against a conference opponent in case of potential tiebreakers down the road.
Tampa Bay was the “home” team, and each fan was given a Bucs flag. It was a good way to sway the undecided voters. But the Bears got the victory and with it, stadium sentiment.
The real winner? Judging by the roar of the crowd, it was the guy who ran onto the field. Sigh. When you’re trying to take over the world the way the NFL is, sometimes it involves baby steps.