NEW ORLEANS — Bears tight end Dion Sims was one of the first teammates to come off the sideline and head to the end zone to celebrate Zach Miller’s nifty 25-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter Sunday at the Superdome. But his elation quickly turned to dread.
“I could tell something was wrong because he’d usually get up and be excited and celebrate,” Sims said. “But he didn’t say anything. He was silent. He just laid there. He didn’t get up. He sat up, but then he laid back down. And he had a stale look on his face.”
In a cruel twist of fate for a player who feels so blessed to be in the NFL but seemingly is cursed by the football gods, Miller’s apparent touchdown catch turned into another horrible episode in his star-crossed career.
As replays showed, the lower part of Miller’s left leg bent grotesquely as he planted while gaining possession. He dislocated his knee, which left him hospitalized overnight and certainly meant the end to his season. It’s the fifth time in the last seven seasons that Miller has suffered a major injury. He has played in 44 games in that span.
And Miller and the Bears suffered further indignity. Though it appeared Miller had made a legal catch, even by the strict standards of the NFL, the play was ruled incomplete on review. The Bears settled for Connor Barth’s 44-yard field goal and trailed 14-6 instead of 14-10 — four lost points that had an impact on how the final 17:42 of the game were played out. Not only that, but because the play was reviewed, the replay of Miller’s leg bending hideously was shown several times on the Jumbotron.
“It’s brutal, gruesome,’’ guard Kyle Long said. ‘‘I didn’t watch it after I saw [the replay] the first time. To go from elation — ‘What a play, what a throw’ — in that situation in the game to [the play being] overturned and Zach being injured. . . . Immediately when we saw the replay that Zach was down and he stayed down, that was the focus of our group. It’s really unfortunate. We lost a really good guy today.”
For a moment, the play was a thing of beauty — a clutch play, perfect throw and great catch that seemingly turned momentum the Bears’ way.
On third-and-10 from the Saints’ 25, quarterback Mitch Trubisky dropped straight back and lofted a precision throw to Miller, who had a half-step on safety Rafael Bush in the end zone. Despite tight coverage on Miller, Trubisky threw the ball where only Miller could get it. Miller made the catch as he battled Bush, securing the ball with his left arm as he fell to the ground. Replays did not indicate the ball hit the ground, but that’s what the officials ruled.
“We ruled that he was going to the ground as part of the process of the catch,” referee Carl Cheffers said. “So when he goes to the ground, he has to survive the ground. He . . . temporarily lost control of the ball. The ball hit the ground, therefore it’s incomplete.”
The Bears didn’t see it that way.
“I thought it was a touchdown, just like everybody else on the sideline did,” wide receiver Tre McBride said. “I was in on the play, even closer than [the players on the sideline]. I was a few yards away. It looked like a catch to me — in real [time] and on the [Jumbotron].”
It was a bad break and a big loss.
“We love Zach a great deal around here,” Long said. “He’s a tremendous competitor and one of the most resilient guys I’ve been around. My thoughts are with him and his family. He’ll be fine. He’s tough as nails.”
Follow me on Twitter @MarkPotash.