6th Most Memorable Chicago Bears Game Since 1979
Bears 37, 49ers 31: October 28, 2001
This matchup featured two of the surprise teams of the NFC in 2001, with the Bears and 49ers both holding 4-1 records. Perhaps this game would figure later into who was one of the most dominant teams in the conference that season. But on this day it would end as one of the most memorable games in Chicago Bears History.
Chicago was faced with stiff competition and went down fast early. San Francisco scored two touchdowns to take a 14-0 lead in the first period, the first on a Julian Peterson fumble return after he hit and caused a fumble on Bears starting quarterback Jim Miller. The hit injured Miller’s ribs, and he was replaced by the far more weak-armed Shane Matthews. The second 49er touchdown came on a one-yard pass from quarterback Jeff Garcia to Justin Swift.
In the secondd period the Bears recovered somewhat, scoring two points on a safety, and a touchdown on a Daimon Shelton run. But from halftime to the middle of the fourth quarter was all San Francisco; with less than 10 minutes remaining in the game they held a commanding 31-16 lead, and the situation looked bleak for the Bears. Some Soldier Field fans departed.
The rest of the game would cause controversey among 49er fans and observers. Coaches Steve Mariucci of the 49ers and Dick Jauron of the Bears were friends and colleagues dating to 1992 in Green Bay, and in retrospect Mariucci was accused of going easy on his old friend. During this time the seemingly weak-armed Matthews threw two touchdown passes to rookie receiver David Terrell, and after these the Bears suddenly trailed only by a score of 31-29. With seconds remaining they would have to score a two-point conversion simply to put the game into overtime, let alone win. On the conversion try, offensive coordinator John Shoop called an inside run to rookie back Anthony Thomas, who plunged into the end zone to tie the game. The play was reviewed to check if Thomas’ knee was down, but the play stood.
The Bears lost the ensuing coin toss and would kick to the 49ers, who set up at their own 33-yard line, just 27 yards out of field goal range. On the very first play from scrimmage in overtime, 49er Pro Bowlers Jeff Garcia and Terrell Owens attempted to hook up on a pass over the middle. Routine stuff. But at the point of the reception, Owens was smashed by second-year Bear linebacker Brian Urlacher. The ball popped loose, right into the hands of Bear safety Mike Brown. Brown dashed to the right sideline and ran past all San Francisco defenders to the end zone, where he fell. The Bears had pulled off a highly unlikely win just 16 seconds into the overtime period, which beat the 1980 Bears’ record for shortest overtime victory.