Stravnisky penned a ballet with the myth of the Phoenix as a theme that remains one of my favorite pieces of music of all time. In the last movement of the piece, the composer uses an extraordinarily dramatic combination of jarring melody and uplifting counterpoint to portray the bird’s rebirth after having consumed itself in fire.
That combination of music and the theme of coming back from the dead brings to mind the performance of Brian Urlacher and the Chicago Bears’ defense in the second half of their game against the Arizona Cardinals on Monday night. Stifling the Cardinal offense by holding them to a field goal for the last two quarters, my beloveds roared back from a 20 point deficit to pull out a miraculous 24-23 victory on a night where the offense might as well have stayed in the locker room.
Urlacher was everywhere, playing the game as a man possessed. In the fourth quarter alone he stripped the ball from Cardinals running back Edgerrin James that was subsequently picked up by Peanut Tillman and run in for a score. He blocked 2 passes, delivered several titanic blows to receivers and running backs while making 6 solo tackles. NFL analysts routinely talk about Ray Lewis of Baltimore as the best middle linebacker in the game today because of his ability to take over a game and dominate it. I daresay that those analysts should run a tape of Urlachers performance in the fourth quarter and perhaps alter their judgement about who the number one defensive player in the league truly is.
And every one of Urlacher’s plays was absolutely necessary. That’s because the vaunted Bear’s offense performed a little ballet of their own – obligingly handing the ball to the Cardinals on 6 different occasions and pirouetting in circles for most of the night. Much credit must go to the Cardinals whose defense looked more like the Bears’ defense at times than Chicago’s crew. Flying around the field with enthusiasm and abandon, they delivered enormous hits on Chicago’s receivers, several times separating them from the ball to prevent gains. They ganged up on running back Thomas Jones, allowing the Bears’ star a measly 39 yards on 11 carries. And their blitz schemes befuddled Bears’ quarterback Rex “The Wonder Dog” Grossman.
Indeed, Wonder Dog had his absolute worst day as a pro, going a horrendous 14-37 for 148 yards with 4 interceptions and 2 fumbles. The offense could only manage a field goal and never seemed to be in sync. Again, much of the credit for the Bears’ confusion should go to the Arizona defense. But in the end, it was the defense on the other side of the field that won the game for my beloveds.
In addition to the fourth quarter strip and TD by Tillman, the defense also caused a Matt Leinart fumble which was returned by safety Mike Brown for a score with just seconds left in the third quarter. Leinart performed as well as one could expect from a rookie. After a spectacular first quarter where he went 8-9 and 2 TD’s, the Bears defense asserted themselves and stifled the youngster for most of the rest of the game. The Heisman Trophy winner ended up going 24-42 for 236 yards and 2 touchdowns. He did a good job with the two minute drill late in the game and got his team within very makable field goal distance (40 yards). Unfortunately for Phoenix, pro bowl place kicker from last year Neil Rakers missed to the left and the game was over.
But the truly magical moment in the game occurred with less than 3 minutes to go. After a brave stop by the defense, the Cardinals were forced to punt on fourth down. Taking the high kick was Devon Hester, one the smallest men in the NFL and certainly one of the fastest. Running straight up the field, he juked one tackler and ran by two more potential stoppers for a jaw dropping 82 yard punt return that put the Bears ahead to stay 24-32. The Bears announcers anointed Hester “The Windy City Flyer” following an equally spectacular punt return for a TD in week 1 during the team’s 26-0 drubbing of the Packers. I think that might be one nickname that sticks.
No team can play at the top of its game for an entire season. But with a defense like the Bears’ – speed, ferocity, and big playmakers – a lot of defects can be hidden and a lot of games can be won that probably should have been chalked up as defeats. Could this mean that the Bears have a chance to go undefeated for the year? The odds are heavily against it.
But don’t talk odds to Urlacher and the Bears defense.