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Bears at a loss to explain Chiefs’ Hail Mary

Brian Urlacher batted Chiefs’ Hail Mary pass end first half Dexter McCluster (22). | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

Brian Urlacher batted the Chiefs’ Hail Mary pass at the end of the first half to Dexter McCluster (22). | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: January 6, 2012 8:18AM

It was like a game of hot
potato. One team would make a mistake, and the other would fail to take advantage.

But the Bears passed the potato one too many times, and the Kansas City Chiefs finally hung on to it en route to a 10-3 victory Sunday at Soldier Field.

Running back Dexter McCluster grabbed Tyler Palko’s deflected Hail Mary pass in the end zone on the final play of the first half to give the Chiefs a 7-3 lead. Linebacker Brian Urlacher and safety Chris Conte tried to bat the pass down, but they batted it right into the arms of McCluster.

‘‘Me and Brian were both trying to knock the ball down,’’ Conte said. ‘‘And we did. Unfortunately, the guy didn’t get boxed out, so he was able to make the play.’’

‘‘[I’ve done it] about a hundred times, [and it’s the] first time anyone’s caught one,’’ Urlacher said.

Urlacher and Conte couldn’t believe what happened, but McCluster said he saw it coming all the way.

‘‘I’m the guy that’s looking for any tipped balls,’’ McCluster said. ‘‘Once I saw how he was going to hit the ball down, I knew it was coming right to me, so I just prepared myself for it. It fell right in my lap.’’

Until the Chiefs’ 16-play, 87-yard Hail Mary drive, the Bears’ defense had been in control, holding them to 60 yards. But the Chiefs converted four third downs and one fourth down en route to the touchdown.

The Bears helped out by calling timeouts with 2:11 and 2:06 left. On third-and-nine, Palko connected with Dwayne Bowe for 14 yards to the Chiefs’ 40 to foil the strategy.

Coach Lovie Smith defend-
ed the timeouts.

‘‘We were thinking about getting the football for us to have a drive right before the half,’’ he said.

After the two-minute warning, the Chiefs converted a third-and-one on Palko’s one-yard sneak to midfield and a fourth-and-three on a five-yard pass to McCluster to the Bears’ 38. After an incompletion, Chiefs coach Todd Haley decided to forgo a long field goal and throw it deep.

‘‘I conferred with [special-teams coach] Steve Hoffman real quick, and I didn’t like the look in his eyes,’’ Haley said. ‘‘So we went to the jump ball, and it worked out.’’

Bears defensive tackle Henry Melton said the play ‘‘took a lot of wind out of us.’’

Two weeks ago, the Bears had the wind at their backs. Now, their playoff hopes are dimming.

‘‘We should never have been in that position,’’ Melton said.

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