With 2:05 remaining in the fourth quarter Sunday at Soldier Field, quarterback Jay Cutler led the Bears offense onto the field. Oakland placekicker Sebastian Janikowski had just made a 41-yard field goal to give the Raiders a 20-19 lead, and the Chicago offense had to at least advance into field-goal range.
It was the same situation the offense practices every week. The two-minute drill is where teams show how calm they can be under pressure and how well they have prepared during the week. Knowing what to do and how to execute when it matters most is a difference-maker for an NFL club. Not panicking when the clock is winding down, but instead elevating the performance, often times makes the difference in winning or losing.
"We had to be on our P's and Q's. There was a sense of urgency," right tackle Kyle Long said after the game about the offense's mentality going into the final drive. "We understood that if they hit that field goal, we were going to have to block our (butts) off and give Jay some time to throw it."
What happened over the next 12 plays highlighted the Bears' preparation and ability to execute when it matters most.
The drive began with a 6-yard run by Kyle Long heading into the two-minute warning, but then a sack and incomplete pass brought up the first pressure moment of the possession. Facing fourth-and-5 from their own 25, with 90 seconds remaining in regulation, Cutler lined up in shotgun, looked to his right, then darted a bullet pass to Martellus Bennett along the left sideline. The tight end snared the ball out of the air, leaping over Oakland cornerback Keenan Lambert to gain seven yards to move the chains and extend the drive.
"At practice, we do fourth-down plays, and I beg for the ball every single time," Bennett said. "It's fourth down ... I have to get open. So I just feel like in those moments, I have to make sure I'm there for my teammates when they need me."
With a fresh set of downs, the Bears continued their march down the field. Cutler misfired on his next throw, but a 7-yard run by Forte gave the Bears offense another manageable third down at the Chicago 39-yard line. Bennett was covered this time, so the quarterback looked left and hit receiver Marquees Wilson, who was shoved out of bounds after gaining seven yards with 56 seconds to go.
The Bears tried a deep ball next, but Cutler's heave to Cameron Meredith had too much on it. On second down, the offense tried a safer play, with the quarterback hitting Eddie Royal on a short pass over the middle. Royal gained 12 yards, taking the ball into Raiders territory as the Bears used their first timeout with 40 seconds to go.
"Everybody had the look in their eye that they were going to make that play," Royal said. "And that's what you need from a team that's just starving for a win. You want to see that from guys in the huddle, and we saw it."
Out of the shotgun again, Cutler kept firing. He found Wilson for a 9-yard pickup, putting the ball into Robbie Gould's field-goal range. Earlier in the fourth quarter, Gould had drilled a 54-yard field goal through the goal posts in the stadium's south end zone. Now the offense was in that position again, on the same side of the field.
With 39 seconds lefts, the task turned from getting into scoring range to setting up Gould with the best chance to kick the game-winner. Forte got another handoff, running behind right guard Vladimir Ducasse for two yards before being tackled on the left hashmark, almost exactly where the longer kick earlier in the quarter had been from.
"[Offensive coordinator Adam] Gase did a great job of putting it in the middle of the left hash," Gould said. "He knows to manage that very well and he did a great job of doing that. Once you see a kick like that, it's pretty unique to be able to see the same kick from a similar distance when you go to see it again."
The ball sat exactly where Gould wanted it, and the only thing the kicker had to do was drill it through the uprights. After letting the clock drain, Chicago took a timeout with seven seconds to go. The veteran kicker went out and made the 49-yard field goal, completing the drive and giving the Bears their first victory of the 2015 season, 22-20.
Cutler said that the Raiders defense was playing conservative on the drive, allowing him to convert quick passes underneath to his receivers. Spreading the ball around was key, as it didn't allow Oakland to focus its attention on any one target. And protection mattered, despite the Chicago offensive line being without its regular starting left tackle (Jermon Bushrod, who was inactive because of a concussion) and center (Will Montgomery, who left the game in the first quarter after suffering a leg injury).
Wins are great in the NFL, no matter how they come. But for Chicago to earn its first victory of the season by executing at the end when it matters most pleased a lot of people in the Bears locker room. It also showed what this team is all about.
"We have that never-quit attitude," Royal said after the game. "Nobody had their head down or anything, everybody was excited to go out there and make a play. And everybody did on that drive, so it was great."