Marcus Cooper was trying to act as if he had been there before, with just one problem. He never actually got there.
Cooper’s return of a blocked field goal late in the second quarter of the Bears’ 23-17 overtime victory against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday could have ignited a rout. But it turned into another bizarre chapter of an all-too-familiar book that pushed the Bears into another taffy pull. The big difference this time? Somehow it ended well.
“I thought I was in. But obviously I wasn’t,” Cooper said of the ill-fated return that the Bears somehow salvaged with Connor Barth’s 24-yard field goal for a 17-7 halftime lead. “That was just a mistake on my part. I didn’t think anybody was close to me. I slowed down and the guy made a great play.”
Cooper had a clear path to the end zone after cleanly retrieving Sherrick McManis’ block of Chris Boswell’s 35-yard field goal attempt with six seconds left in the first half. “I’m thinking touchdown the whole time,” McManis said. “So I’m just running and ready to celebrate.”
Well ahead of the pack, Cooper inexplicably slowed down inside the 10-yard line and stopped at the 1. It seemed like a weird ending to a touchdown return even if Cooper had actually scored. But it was similar to his 60-yard pick-six against the Buccaneers last season with the Cardinals, when Cooper all but stopped almost immediately after reaching the end zone.
This time, though, he wasn’t quite there. Steelers tight end Vance McDonald came from behind to knock the ball loose and holder Jordan Berry knocked the ball out of the end zone.
Confusion took over from there. The play originally was ruled a touchback and the Steelers went to their locker room. But because Berry intentionally knocked the ball out of the end zone, the Bears were awarded the ball at the point of the fumble with one untimed play.
After the Steelers returned to the field, the Bears went for the touchdown, but left tackle Charles Leno was called for a false start. Pushed back to the 5-yard line, the Bears settled for the field goal. They were about to have their lead cut to 14-10. Then they were inches from taking a 21-7 advantage. And they settled for a 17-7 lead.
“Your heart drops, of course, but you have to get on to the next play,” Cooper said. “I couldn’t dwell on that play. You move forward. As a [cornerback], you have that next-play mentality. After that occurred in the first half, I let it go and just tried to make a play.”
One of the craziest plays ever, which is saying something.
“I’ve only seen something like that on TV — DeSean Jackson,” said linebacker John Timu, referring to Jackson’s nationally televised gaffe in 2008 when he dropped the ball to celebrate a touchdown at the 1-yard line against the Cowboys. “To actually witness it, I’m like, ‘Damn what just happened?’ This could be the difference in the game.”
“I thought he was getting ready to celebrate and they had a late hit. Then I saw the [replay] and I’m like, ‘I’m pretty sure everybody’s first question is, ‘Why didn’t he just head to the back of the end zone?’ But all in all it ended up working out.”
That it did. Cooper had a nifty break-up on Ben Roethlisberger’s third-and-two pass for Martavis -Bryant that turned a likely touchdown into a field goal that tied the game at 17 with 8:03 left.
“Thankfully we had guys that backed me up,” Cooper said. “The defense, the team as a whole, stood up for me and took care of business.”
Follow me on Twitter @MarkPotash.