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MUSICK: In wild game, precision of special teams reigns

Published: Monday, Nov. 18, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, Nov. 18, 2013 7:50 a.m. CDT
Caption
(AP photo)
Bears kicker Robbie Gould kicks the game-winning field goal in the overtime to beat the Baltimore Ravens, 23-20, on Sunday at Soldier Field in Chicago.

CHICAGO – On his way out of the Bears’ locker room, nearly a half-dozen hours after the opening kickoff, Marc Trestman stopped in front of Robbie Gould’s locker.

The first-year coach shook hands with his veteran kicker, who had ended a wild game Sunday with a 38-yard field goal to lift the Bears past the Baltimore Ravens, 23-20, in overtime. The men chatted, and Trestman smiled and turned to leave.

But Trestman paused once again, delaying his departure. He clenched his right fist. He lifted it toward Gould, who responded in kind.

Knuckles.

What a perfectly weird ending to one of the strangest Bears games in forever.

Save the scrutiny and skepticism for later in the week. We’ll have plenty of time to fret about the Bears’ many flaws heading into the final six games of the season.

As for this day? This hour? This moment?

Knuckles.

Because it’s not easy for a team to play, let alone win, a marathon game that spans five hours, 16 minutes, from start to finish. It’s not easy to erase a double-digit deficit after enduring a weather delay that lasts nearly two hours.

It’s not easy to withstand four seasons of weather in a single afternoon.

“That was a real football game, man,” said Bears linebacker Blake Costanzo, who wore mud on his pants and a little-boy smile on his face. “I had fun out there.”

OK, fine, so it was easy for some.

But try being a member of the Bears’ special-teams trio with the game on the line. Try being long snapper Jeremy Cain or holder Adam Podlesh or kicker Gould.

Each one had to be precise, even though better working conditions existed on Mars.

The temperature was falling. The wind was howling. The ground was mush.

“It was like a pigpen out there,” Podlesh said.

Fortunately, the group’s strategy was clearer than mud.

Let’s start with Cain, the Bears’ rent-a-snapper who arrived in town about two weeks earlier to fill in for injured icon Patrick Mannelly. Cain hunched over the ball at the Ravens’ 20-yard line and quickly looked to improve his grip.

“It was just a little damp because the ground was wet from all of the rain earlier,” Cain said. “So I kind of brushed it off.”

And waited.

Because, in addition to the field surface resembling a pigpen, the wind was gusting at speeds typically reserved for highway driving. Podlesh waited for the wind to catch its breath. When it did, he gave Cain the signal to snap the ball.

“Realistically, we probably had three different types of wind conditions,” Podlesh said. “We had before we went in [for the delay], we had after we went back out, and then we had after halftime. And it was three completely different days we had, windwise.”

On this, the third day of a never-ending game, Podlesh caught Cain’s short spiral and placed the ball on the right side of the left hash mark of the Ravens’ 28-yard line. Before the Bears lined up for the snap, Podlesh had scouted the area for a patch of grass instead of a clump of mud, and this location met his requirements.

Now, it was up to Gould to finish the job.

Ten times earlier in his career, Gould had kicked a game-winning field goal. Five of those times, the winning kick had come in overtime.

But never like this. Not in this slop. Not with this wind.

Gould approached the kick like a golfer hitting a tee shot into a crosswind.

“I tried to play it off the right upright,” Gould said. “The ball was probably moving about half a goal post [with the wind gusts].”

Not this time, though.

Remember how Podlesh waited for the gust to die down before the snap?

Well, the gust never returned, at least not while Gould’s kick sailed through the air. So much for the half-a-goalpost theory.

“That one, I think, moved 2 inches,” Gould said.

Good enough.

The kick barely sneaked inside of the right upright.

The Bears barely escaped with a victory.

The NFC North standings barely are believable.

But the Bears’ precision-driven specialists delivered a clean ending to a messy game.

Knuckles.

• Northwest Herald sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at tmusick@shawmedia.com and on Twitter @tcmusick.

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