Bears 24, Cardinals 23

Tuesday, October 17th 2006, 4:54 am
By: News On 6

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) If the Chicago Bears finish the season without a loss, they will look back to that strange night in Arizona when they had a victory that was as improbable as they come.

“I have never seen anything like that,” Bears quarterback Rex Grossman said. “It was unbelievable.”

6 turnovers, 3 points on offense, and somehow the Bears are still without a loss after beating the shellshocked Cardinals 24-23 on Monday night.

“I have never played so bad and won a game like that,” said Grossman, who threw 4 interceptions and fumbled the ball away twice.

Down 20-0 at halftime, Chicago returned 2 fumbles for touchdowns in the 2nd half. Then Devin Hester returned a punt 83 yards for a score with 2:58 remaining to take the lead. The night ended with Neil Rackers missing a 41 yard field goal that would have been the game winner with 53 seconds left.

“Sometimes, when you're a team of destiny, things like that happen,” Chicago coach Lovie Smith said.

Matt Leinart, who threw 2 1st quarter touchdowns and finished 24-42 for 232 yards, coolly directed Arizona downfield at the finish for a chance to claim a victory that appeared to be the Cardinals' all night.

But Rackers, a Pro Bowl kicker last season who connected from 41, 28 and 29 yards earlier in the evening, missed a 41 yarder to the left with 53 seconds left for what would have been the game winner for Arizona (1-5).

Just last week, he missed a 51 yard attempt at the finish that would have sent the game against Kansas City into overtime.

“Neil is still one of the best kickers in the league,” Leinart said. “That's just life.”

The Cardinals have lost 5 in a row after a season opening win. Three have come at home, all in a similar excruciating fashion.

“I've seen just about everything at this point,” defensive end Bertrand Berry said. “Heart-wrenching games. You know, one team doesn't deserve to lose like this. This is a good football team.”

Arizona coach Dennis Green was seething. Judging by his comments, he clearly didn't believe the Bears lived up to the hype, or deserved to win.

“The Bears are who we thought they were!” he said, yelling at the top of his lungs and pounding on the podium at his postgame press conference. “Now, if you want to crown them, then crown (them)! But they are who they thought they were! And we let them off the hook!”

Green then stormed away.

Anquan Boldin caught 12 passes for 136 yards and a touchdown for the Cardinals.

Edgerrin James carried 36 times for only 55 yards, an average of 1.5 yards. It was the most carries in an NFL game by a player while averaging less than 2 yards per attempt, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

“The way things have turned out is just unreal,” James said. “This is some of the weirdest stuff I have ever seen in these past six weeks.”

James also had one very costly fumble.

After Grossman threw his 4th interception, the Cardinals were trying to use up time. But Brian Urlacher stripped the ball from James and Charles Tillman scooped it up for a 40 yard return to cut Arizona's lead to 23-17 with 5 minutes left.

Urlacher finished with 11 tackles, seeming to find his way to the ball on nearly every play as the Cardinals were making their final drives.

“First of all they weren't blocking me, so that was easy,” Urlacher said.

On their next possession, the Cardinals were forced to punt. Hester caught the ball, broke a few arm tackles and weaved around hapless defenders as he sprinted upfield, scoring his second punt return for a touchdown this season and giving Chicago the lead for the first time all night.

In addition to his 4 picks, Grossman fumbled the ball away twice and struggled to hit receivers when he did manage to get the ball cleanly away, going 14-37 for 148 yards. With their offense suddenly punchless, the Bears' defense provided the points.

The first came when defensive end Mark Anderson broke through untouched and blindsided Leinart, forcing a fumble that Mike Brown returned 3 yards for a touchdown that cut the lead to 23-10 with 2 seconds left in the 3rd quarter.

Chicago entered the game with 5 turnovers in 5 games, 10 fewer than their foes. But it was evident early that this would be a frightful night under the stars with the roof open for the first time in Arizona's extravagant new stadium.

The Bears steamrolled into town with a fierce defense and an efficient offense that had blown out Seattle and Buffalo by a combined 77-13 score their previous two games.

But Leinart, in his second NFL start, ran the offense with precision and poise at the start, becoming the first rookie to throw a pair of 1st quarter TD passes in his first two starts. This time, he did it without Pro Bowl receiver Larry Fitzgerald, sidelined with a hamstring injury, against a Chicago defense that had allowed 2 touchdowns all season.

“He's a good quarterback,” Urlacher said. “He's young, we tried to throw a lot of stuff at him. He took care of the football, didn't have any interceptions. But we made the plays when we had to.”