CHICAGO | You can play perfect football and still lose if the yellow flags don't fall your way.
This is not a revelation.
The running joke in the Soldier Field press box Sunday went like this: “Are these the replacement refs again?”
Of course not. That dark era in the NFL ended weeks ago, but the Bears' 28-10 win against NFC North challenger Minnesota could've gone either way with a flag here, a flag there.
That's a scary thought in a league already saturated by parity. You want the very best teams still breathing at the end, but the ever-fickle element of officiating can dash those hopes.
The Bears played well in snapping their two-game skid but paid dearly for it with injuries to key personnel and penalties that could've sent the Vikings home with smiley faces.
Take the first quarter.
Bears' receiver Eric Weems and Vikings' cornerback A.J. Jefferson are thumping each other like a tom-tom, really dishing it out, and Jefferson gets hit with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty to preserve the drive.
Moments later, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is run out of bounds by Jefferson and nonchalantly flips the ball to him, drawing another 15-yarder.
Take the second quarter.
Cutler unloads deep for Brandon Marshall, who is waiting in the end zone, right hand pressed firmly on Antoine Winfield's chest. Marshall pushes off on Winfield as he goes up for the ball. Defensive pass interference. Ball at the Vikings' 1. Bears score.
"Well, I debated the call. I told the officials that I was looking forward to seeing it on tape," Vikings' coach Leslie Frazier grumbled. "With the naked eye, I thought Antoine was in good position to battle and got shoved.
"The officials didn't see it that, somehow."
Defensive end Jared Allen was later called for a hands-to-the-face penalty against Cutler. First down, but Robbie Gould's 39-yard field goal was blocked.
Take the third quarter.
Allen knocks right guard Lance Louis out of the game with a knee injury. No flags.
"I thought it was a legal hit," Allen argued. "He's running to make a tackle, so I just threw myself into him to make a block. I never intentionally try to hurt anybody."
Allen then slammed wide receiver Earl Bennett into next week. A flag, finally.
And, of course, the clincher.
Matt Forte is gang tackled and while being buried alive by several 300-pound linemen, the football squirts loose at the Minnesota 48, safety Mistral Raymond picks it up and goes 52 yards for the touchdown.
Or was it?
The replay assistant challenges the fumble ruling and it's reversed, eventually setting up Gould's 46-yard field goal for the 28-10 final.
This could've been a close call, particularly if Cutler hadn't been cleared to play after suffering a concussion weeks ago. But the Bears won, this time.
Will their luck continue? Don't bet the rent money.
This column soley represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org