While the Bears waited for officials to review the spot of the ball in the third quarter, coach John Fox huddled his players and told them to be ready.
If Tarik Cohen was short of a first down, the Bears were going to go for it on fourth down from the Browns’ 15.
In keeping with tradition, Fox lost the challenge. So the same coach who decided to punt on fourth-and-one from his own 45 last week took a chance.
It paid off when Jordan Howard ran for eight yards. The Bears scored two plays later to take a 20-3 lead that would hold for their fifth victory of the season Sunday at snowy, sparsely filled Soldier Field.
“We know that’s a big momentum play,” Howard said.
Where was this last week? The Bears went for it because they thought the Browns would continue to have trouble scoring points, Fox said.
“Everybody always says you need to have confidence,” Fox said. “Well, good stuff has to happen to get confidence. That was obviously a confidence-getter.”
That the Bears are still grasping for confidence in Year 3 of the Fox era is the reason it likely will end in one week, after the team’s season finale in Minnesota. Fans voted with their pocketbooks as 17,539 who bought tickets stayed away.
Though the team likely will blame the snowfall and the opponent — the Browns could become the second team to go 0-16 — it was a sign of apathy that chairman George McCaskey, a former ticket operations director, will notice.
At least the Bears avoided the banana peel. Fox won his first game as the favorite in eight tries with the Bears. He’s guaranteed to finish with a better winning percentage than Abe Gibron’s franchise-worst .274.
Fox was helped by three plays that epitomized the Browns’ season.
First, quarterback DeShone Kizer threw an interception directly to Kyle Fuller in the end zone in the second quarter.
Then, on the first play of the second half, Carl Nassib was flagged for being offside on an interception that first overall draft pick Myles Garrett returned to the 5. The Bears got the ball at their own 45 instead and scored four plays later.
Late in the third quarter, receiver Rashard Higgins fumbled into the end zone, and cornerback Prince Amukamara recovered.
The Bears have gagged on such gifts before, but they didn’t Sunday. They adjusted at halftime, deciding to throw third-down screens to counter the Browns’ blitz packages. Twice in the third quarter, Benny Cunningham caught passes — totaling 62 yards — that extended eventual touchdown drives. Howard’s 16-yard score was his second of the game. Trubisky’s four-yard draw for a touchdown was his second of the season.
“Coach Fox is a great coach, man, and he doesn’t believe in quitting. He preaches that every day,” receiver Josh Bellamy said. “He’ll tell you, ‘I’m not going to let my sword down, so don’t let yours down.’ When you’ve got a coach like that, you can believe in him. I just feel like we’ve been hitting a rocky road. Coach Fox is a great coach. He’s going to coach until he can’t coach no more.”
Even after Sunday, that day draws nearer.
Follow me on Twitter @patrickfinley.