By any means necessary

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Oct 18, 2006



By Cold, Hard Football Facts senior writer John Dudley
 
It has often been said that "the best offense is a good defense." In Chicago, the words "and special teams" should be appended to that expression.
 
With Monday night's improbable 24-23 victory over Arizona, the Bears became the first team in NFL history to overcome a 20-point deficit without registering an offensive touchdown. They also solidified their place as the league's premier scoring team on returns, proving that they will score – and win – by any means necessary.
 
Coinciding with the 2000 arrival of Brian Urlacher, the latest in a long line of great Chicago middle linebackers, the Bears have been absolutely explosive on defense and special teams. Whether you give them the ball willingly via punt or kickoff, or unwillingly via turnover, the Bears are always a threat to take it the distance.
 
These new Monsters of the Midway have become Masters of the Takeaway. They swarm to the ball on defense with the intent of causing turnovers that lead to touchdowns. A player who recovers a fumble or intercepts a pass will generally find a convoy of blockers on his way to the end zone.
 
Safety Mike Brown, who likewise joined the Bears in 2000, is the poster child of this effort. In Monday's remarkable win, as the Cold, Hard Football Facts were the only ones to report, he became the first player in NFL history to return at least three fumbles and four INTs for touchdowns. (Unfortunately, Brown will now miss the rest of the season after undergoing foot surgery.)
 
Chicago has a similarly aggressive mentality on special teams. Kick returns do more than provide good field position; they offer additional opportunities to produce points.
 
In their 102 regular-season games since the start of the 2000 season, the Bears have generated 33 touchdowns from defense and special teams. The Patriots, Ravens and, believe it or not, the lowly Lions, are tied for second with 29 TDs each over that span.
 
Here is a breakdown of the 10 teams that have scored the most return touchdowns since 2000:
 
Team
Kicks
Fumbles
INTs
Misc.*
Total
Chicago
7
6
17
3
33
Baltimore
5
5
15
4
29
Detroit
10
7
10
2
29
New England
7
5
16
1
29
Tampa Bay
4
8
14
2
28
Tennessee
4
8
13
3
28
Carolina
9
4
12
1
26
N.Y. Jets
8
7
9
2
26
Oakland
9
4
12
1
26
Pittsburgh
7
8
10
1
26
 
*Miscellaneous returns for touchdown include blocked field goals, blocked punts, fake field goals, fake punts and missed field goals.
 
The Cold, Hard Football Facts reveal that many of these non-offensive touchdowns come in key situations. Twice a year, on average, Chicago is getting return TDs that directly impact the outcome of games. Monday night marked the 13th time in the last six-plus seasons that the Bears scored on defense or special teams and won by eight points or fewer. Each of those one-possession games might otherwise have been losses.
 
For proper pigskin perspective, we've compiled the top 10 Bears victories since 2000 that can be credited to defensive or special-teams touchdowns:
 
10.  Bears 27, Colts 24
Nov. 5, 2000 
Already up 20-0 early in the third quarter, Chicago cornerback Walt Harris intercepts Peyton Manning on a pass intended for Terrence Wilkins. His 35-yard return for a touchdown gives the Bears a comfortable lead, but they would need every bit of it. Indy rallies for 24 second-half points and then recovers an onside kick with 1:36 left. The comeback falls short when Manning loses a fumble while getting sacked by linebacker Rosevelt Colvin.
 
9.  Bears 17, 49ers 9
Nov. 13, 2005 
Ahead 3-0, San Francisco sends out kicker Joe Nedney to attempt a 52-yard field goal on the last play of the first half. The gusty winds at Soldier Field blow the kick wide and short, allowing Chicago cornerback Nathan Vasher to field the ball. He returns it an NFL-record 108 yards for a touchdown, and the Bears never relinquish the lead.
 
8.  Bears 20, Redskins 15
Dec. 23, 2001 
Trailing 13-10 five minutes into the fourth quarter, Chicago kicker Paul Edinger lines up for a 44-yard field goal. Holder Brad Maynard, the team's punter, takes the snap, rolls right and tosses a 27-yard touchdown pass to Urlacher. The successful fake field goal puts the Bears ahead to stay.
 
7.  Bears 13, Buccaneers 10
Nov. 19, 2000 
With the game tied 3-3 a minute before halftime, Tampa Bay quarterback Shaun King throws a pass intended for tight end Dave Moore. Chicago safety Tony Parrish intercepts and returns it 38 yards for a score. It would be the Bears' only touchdown of the day, but the defense makes it stand up.
 
6.  Bears 23, Lions 20
Dec. 24, 2000 
Down 17-13 with 6:31 remaining, Chicago gets a timely interception from cornerback R.W. McQuarters. He steps in front of a Stoney Case pass intended for Germane Crowell and takes the ball back 61 yards for the go-ahead touchdown. After a field goal draws Detroit even, Edinger hits a 54-yarder to win it.
 
5.  Bears 37, 49ers 31 (OT)
Oct. 28, 2001 
Chicago ties the game on two fourth-quarter touchdown passes from Shane Matthews to David Terrell. The second one comes with 26 seconds remaining and is followed by a successful two-point conversion. On the first play from scrimmage in overtime, San Francisco's Jeff Garcia tries to hit Terrell Owens but is intercepted by Brown, who sprints 33 yards to the end zone.
 
4.  Bears 27, Browns 21 (OT)
Nov. 4, 2001 
One week later, Chicago again needs two late touchdown passes from Matthews – this time, both happen in the final minute – just to force overtime. On Cleveland's first possession in the extra frame, a Tim Couch pass intended for Jamel White is tipped into the air by defensive end Bryan Robinson. Who is there to catch it? Brown, of course. After a 16-yard jaunt, he has his second game-winning interception return in eight days.
 
3.  Bears 19, Lions 13 (OT)
Oct. 30, 2005
Now the quarterback for Detroit, Garcia gets victimized by the Bears the same way he had four years earlier. On his team's second series in overtime, he tries to throw across the field to Mike Williams. Cornerback Charles Tillman easily intercepts the floater and gallops 22 yards for the score.
 
2.  Bears 19, Titans 17 (OT)
Nov. 14, 2004 
Chicago's only touchdowns come from a 75-yard punt return by McQuarters and a 45-yard interception return by Michael Haynes. On Tennessee's first possession of OT, the defense steps up once again. When Tennessee offensive tackle Fred Miller tries to advance a fumble out of his own end zone, Chicago defensive end Adewale Ogunleye stops him cold. It becomes just the second overtime game in NFL history to end on a safety.
 
1.  Bears 24, Cardinals 23
Oct. 16, 2006 
Although this classic comeback is just days old, the highlights are worth reliving:
  • With eight seconds left in the third quarter and Chicago losing 23-3, defensive end Mark Anderson strip-sacks Matt Leinart. Brown, reprising his familiar role, grabs the lose ball and scores.
  • As the game clock approaches the five-minute mark, the score is still 23-10 when Urlacher rips the ball away from Edgerrin James. Tillman scoops up the fumble and dashes 40 yards to the end zone.
  • Arizona is forced to punt with 3:17 remaining, and Devin Hester fields it at his own 17. He eludes several would-be tacklers and goes 83 yards for the decisive touchdown.
At 6-0, the Bears remain in the driver's seat of the NFC, but this was far from a routine victory over a 1-4 opponent. Monday night's game will likely be the one that defines their season. In the face of adversity, inspired defense and special teams rescued a struggling offense, and a resilient team showed that it had the ultimate will to win.
 
Chicago has frequently looked more dominant, but never more determined.

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