It wasn’t until he looked up at the replay on the Soldier Field video board Sunday that running back Benny Cunningham realized the Bears were in trouble.
He thought he scored on a screen pass when he dove and reached the ball to the right pylon about seven minutes into the second quarter. He ran to the sideline and said as much.
Bears coach John Fox decided he had scored, too, and challenged the ruling that he had stepped out of bounds at the 2-yard line.
“Every indication we had was that he scored,” Fox said.
The resulting turn will torture Fox long after the 23-16 loss to the Packers on Sunday in front of 5,624 empty seats.
During the replay review, officials found that Cunningham lost control of the ball before it hit the pylon, which results in a touchback, not a touchdown.
“When I watched the review, I felt like they made the right call,” Cunningham said. “Just a bad play on my fault, but the refs got it right.”
Fox got it wrong. Had he not challenged, the Bears would have had first-and-goal at the 2. Because the play was ruled neither a touchdown nor a turnover on the field, it was not subject to automatic review by the officials.
The only way the play could have changed was with a coaches’ challenge. Fox, ironically, got to keep his timeout because he technically won the challenge that robbed his team of the ball.
Asked whether his coaches upstairs — who had television access — encouraged him to throw the red flag, Fox said “it stops here” with him.
“Maybe you can see [the fumble] after looking at it 50 times, like some people are able to do,” Fox said. “But during our look, during the game, that wasn’t even discussed.”
Referee Tony Corrente said after the game that Cunningham never stepped out of bounds.
“We had to put together two different angles in order to see both hands losing the football,” Corrente told a pool reporter. “After he lost it [from his left hand], it went right into the pylon. Which creates a touchback.”
Bears running backs are coached to stretch the ball out only in fourth-down situations, Cunningham said, but “I was trying to score a touchdown for the team.”
The play didn’t cost the Bears the game — they made far too many mistakes to claim otherwise — but it crushed an offense that mounted only 31 yards on 13 plays the rest of the second quarter and, amazingly, zero yards on six plays in the third.
“I just felt like it kinda killed the momentum of the offense at the time,” Cunningham said.
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