By Chris Emma—
CHICAGO (CBS) – There was no excuse to be offered by Bears cornerback Marcus Cooper on Sunday, nor did he even consider. Simply put, he made a brutal mistake.
In the waning seconds of the first half, Bears specialist Sherrick McManis came through with a big play, blocking a Steelers field goal attempt. Cooper scooped the ball up and with time expired on the clock, he was running toward the end zone with only green grass in sight when he slowed down his pace a few yards before the goal line.
“He was swaggin’ his way to the end zone,” Bears defensive lineman Akiem Hicks said.
There was too much swag for Cooper, who was chased down from behind at the 1-yard line by Steelers tight end Vance McDonald. The ball went loose into the end zone, where it was illegally batted out of bounds by Steelers holder Jordan Berry. Before confusion to the ruling on the field could ensue, the shock factor came into play.
“It was just a mistake on my part,” Cooper said. “I didn’t think anybody was that close to me. I slowed down. The guy made a great play.
“I did think I had made it, but obviously I didn’t.”
For Bears coach John Fox, it conjured up memories of a game with his Broncos back in 2013, when Danny Trevathan – now with the Bears – flipped the ball just short of the goal line late in a blowout win over the Ravens. A pick-six wasn’t meant to be for Trevathan, but it was a laughing matter at the end of a drubbing.
This was a different matter, as the Bears led 14-7 at the time en route to an eventual 23-17 win in overtime. Fox watched as Cooper slowed down and his heart sunk.
“I did see him start to let up, which frightened me,” Fox said.
Because the Steelers illegally batted the ball out of the end zone, the Bears were given one untimed down from the half-yard line. Fox sent his offense out looking for a touchdown instead of attempting the field goal. While it certainly could’ve been a morale boost after a stunning play, Fox’s main intention with the decision, he said, was to cash in from short yardage. But tackle Charles Leno was called for a false start, and the Bears settled for a field goal from kicker Connor Barth.
Off the Bears went to the locker room, showered by boos from their home crowd despite a 17-7 lead over the Steelers. Cooper didn’t have anything to say, but teammates did. They were quick to lift him up and tell him it would all be OK.
“What’s understood doesn’t need to be said,” said cornerback Prince Amukamara, whose locker is next to Cooper’s.
Added Fox: “He’ll learn from it. Nobody feels worse than he does.”
Cooper had two pass break-ups on consecutive plays in the third quarter. He was also flagged for a defensive holding call on a third-and-goal, which led to the Steelers scoring a touchdown instead of a field goal.
Cooper came through in the fourth quarter, breaking up what potentially would’ve been a touchdown to Martavis Bryant. The Steelers settled for a field goal to tie the game before the Bears won on a 19-yard touchdown run by Jordan Howard in overtime.
“He didn’t look like he’s been foreign to adversity,” Amukamara said. “He responded great. Made a lot of huge plays, and he’s definitely playing elite right now.”