The first half of Sunday’s game between the Steelers and Bears ended with a wild play as the Bears blocked a Chris Boswell field goal attempt and cornerback Marcus Cooper almost returned the ball for a touchdown.
Cooper didn’t make it into the end zone because he slowed down to celebrate before crossing the line and Steelers tight end Vance McDonald knocked the ball out of his hand. The ball went into the end zone and Steelers punter/holder Jordan Berry knocked it through the back. That was an illegal bat, which meant that the officials’ initial ruling that the half was over was incorrect and the Bears got an untimed down that they used to kick a field goal.
After the game, referee Clete Blakeman explained the confusion.
“The kicking team [Pittsburgh] is offense. The defense [Chicago] is defense. But when we have a block and a return, now what happens is that they flip-flop designations,” Blakeman said, via the Bears. “So in this case, the return team, originally the defense, now becomes offense, and the kicking team is now defense. … The fumble, we confirmed with replay that it did occur at the 1. Now we got a loose-ball fumble in the end zone, and it gets batted by the defense, which is Pittsburgh. We go back to the spot of the fumble to enforce that penalty against the defense, so we go from the 1 to the half-yard line. And because it’s a foul against the defense, we now extend for an untimed down.”
Had the Steelers or Bears recovered the ball in the end zone, the half would have ended because it would have been a touchback or the ball would have been returned to the 1-yard-line with no time left on the clock. Those three points loomed large as the Steelers rallied from 17-7 down to tie the game and force an overtime period that ended on a touchdown by Bears running back Jordan Howard.