“I don’t plan on having a lot of support [from the fans]. That’s for sure,” Conte said after getting medically cleared from a concussion suffered in the third preseason game. “But I’m going to go out there and play football. That’s what my job is, and that’s what I’m going to do.”
The last time Conte played at Soldier Field, he was center stage in a mishap that cost the Bears a win over Green Bay and a subsequent trip to the playoffs.
Suffice to say, you don’t see a lot of No. 47 jerseys at Soldier Field.
For his grand return, the Bears' strong safety was almost a hero, a first-week redemption story. Almost.
Instead he wound up the GIF’d goat of a 23-20 overtime loss to the Buffalo Bills, the bumbling, stumbling effort of a terrible opening loss. Most of the blame should go on the offense for turning the ball over three times, but the defense, the scourge of last year's season, still gave up 193 rushing yards.
Conte had a game-changing interception in the third quarter which led to a game-tying touchdown, but in the end, he’ll be remembered more for a game-defining trucking by Old Man Fred Jackson in overtime.
The video will be watched over and over again, especially by Bills fans, but there Conte was, getting stiff-armed, not once but twice, by the Bills’ Fred Jackson, stumbling, bumbling, falling as Jackson set up the game-winning field goal.
The NFL’s official Twitter account even posted a video with the words: “MUST SEE: Fred Jackson stiff-arms Chris Conte into oblivion.”
Here’s what happened:
On 2nd-and-5 from the Bears’ 39, Jackson burst through a gaping hole at the line of scrimmage. Lance Briggs shot through a gap in the middle of the line, getting nothing but air as Jackson went left. Jackson had plenty of space as linemen Jared Allen and Stephen Paea got blocked and Charles Tillman got sealed by receiver Mike Williams.
Conte caught up to Jackson at the 20-yard line where Jackson sent him backpedaling with a stiff arm. Conte tried to recover, but Jackson then sent him tumbling to the ground before being pushed out at the 1.
“It was a play where it’s the end of the game -- I’ve got to get the ball out or something,” Conte said. “If I hit him, it’s a field goal no matter what, so I’ve got to try and get the ball out. It’s a desperation play where I’ve got to try and punch the ball or something.”
Very true. But if you watch the video Conte didn’t come to close to swiping at the ball. He came in high around the helmet, and Jackson, a 33-year-old vet, took advantage. Maybe Conte was just trying to slow down Jackson before he went for the ball punch. No matter. Jackson made him pay with his old-man strength.
“It’s one of those things I pride myself on, is my ability to stiff-arm guys,” Jackson said. “He came up high and I knew I would have an opportunity to do so.”
Bills quarterback E.J. Manuel, who was signaling touchdown as Jackson broke free down the left sideline, said he had only witnessed a stiff arm like that in “NFL Blitz,” the old video game, never in the “real world.”
After offseason shoulder surgery, Conte played only one game of the preseason, in Seattle, getting a concussion for his troubles. He was cleared for the game Thursday and started despite his lack of preseason reps. The Bears rotated in safety Danny McCray in the first half, but Conte played all of the second in which the Bears held Buffalo to two field goals.
How did Conte play? He didn’t get challenged much, mostly lining up deep in the secondary. But his interception showed the value that kept him on this team during a defensive makeover.
On 3rd-and-2 from the Bills’ 48 midway through the third quarter, Conte perfectly read a sideline pass to Marquise Goodwin, stepping in front of him for the interception. Conte spread his arms and “flew” in celebration. Five plays later, the Bears scored on an 11-yard Brandon Marshall touchdown catch on the next drive, tying the game at 17-all.
“I felt good,” Conte said. “Just feels good to make a play and have a bunch fans cheering for you. It’s been awhile. I was excited so I kept running. But I probably shouldn’t run too far because I need to save energy.”
In the first quarter, Conte chased down Robert Woods after the wideout burned Tim Jennings down the sideline for a 32-yard gain to the Bears’ 19. Five plays later, the Bills tied the game at 7. The Bears wouldn’t lead again.
As the last line of what still might be a bad defense, expect Conte to be in the wrong place at the wrong time multiple times a game.
Like late in the second quarter, when the front seven let reserve running back Anthony Dixon gain a head of steam through the middle. About 10 yards in, Conte tried to get his legs, to no avail, as the 233-pound Dixon rumbled for a 47-yard gain.
As is the wont of some veteran Bears, Tillman blamed the media for Conte’s troubles in perception.
After the game, a reporter threw the cornerback a softball question about being happy for Conte’s interception that set up a game-tying touchdown and Tillman swatted it away:
“I knew it was coming,” Tillman said, slightly chuckling to himself. “Naw, he’s a great player, he’s a good player and a great player. That’s you guys, that’s y’all’s fault. Y’all do that. Y’all do a terrible job trying to play that question. He’s a good player. I think you guys just pick on him.”
The media, Fred Jackson and the NFL’s Twitter account, I guess.