One year and two days ago, the Bears allowed Falcons rookie QB Matt Ryan to complete a 26-yard pass on a play that began with seven seconds left and ended with one tick left on the clock, setting up a game-winning 48-yard field goal.
The 3-1 Bears will remember that when they take the field at the Georgia Dome in front of a national-TV audience Sunday night against the 3-1 Falcons.
"That day he became a veteran," said Bears defensive end Adewale Ogunleye. "He has a lot of poise and is [leading] their team in the right direction, so we definitely have got our hands full with him."
They had their hands full last season, when Ryan was playing in just his sixth NFL game. He completed 22 of 30 passes for 301 yards and one TD, and he was neither sacked nor intercepted. He's even better this year with a 102.9 passer rating, the sixth best in the NFL.
The Bears aren't sure whether to ignore that world-class collapse, use it as motivation or learn from it. They had taken a 20-19 lead, their first of the game, on Rashied Davis' 17-yard TD grab from Kyle Orton and were looking a 4-2 start square in the face. But a poorly conceived and inadequately executed squib kickoff gave the Falcons the ball at their 44-yard line. Ryan's miracle pass to Michael Jenkins set up Jason Elam's 48-yard kill shot as time expired. It left the Bears at 3-3, and the loss cost them a playoff berth as they fell a game short at 9-7.
"We're still talking about it, the last 11 seconds on the clock and how we lost that game," wide receiver Devin Hester said. "It's a bitter taste, and we don't want to have that feeling again once we walk off that field."
The Bears may not want to admit it, but watching tape of that game brings back the pain.
"If you would have asked me that] question last week, I would have said no," Ogunleye said. "But watching some of the game film, the way he was really on point, it kind of gets to you."
The revenge factor won't help the Bears Sunday night when the lights go on in Georgia, according to defensive end Alex Brown.
"Last year's game's not going to help us nor hurt us," he said. "We're not going to get any points from last game, and neither are they."
So maybe it's best to forget it. Asked about the nightmarish game last year at the Georgia Dome, Bears coach Lovie Smith said: "What happened last year? It's about this year. We're playing a good 2009 Atlanta team, and that's about as far as we go."
Any lessons learned in that game?
"What game?" Smith said. "[We're] really not talking a whole lot about what happened last year. If you watch [Sunday's] San Francisco game, that's enough to think about as far as [how] good they are. We had a chance to see in that game. That's enough to get us motivated right there."
The Falcons improved to 3-1 Sunday with a 45-10 rout of Mike Singletary's 49ers, who came into that game with a 3-1 record, and Ryan completed 22 of 32 passes for 329 yards and TD passes of 90 and 31 yards to Roddy White.
QB Matt Ryan
Getty Images: Ezra Shaw
A year ago on that fateful pass, Bears defensive tackle Tommie Harris hit Ryan a split second after he released the ball. They'll need to get to him a bit sooner this time or risk a similar fate, especially since the Falcons have added future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez to their offensive arsenal.
"The kid's good," Brown said of Ryan after Monday's practice. "I'm not going to spend the next 10 minutes talking about how good he is. ... OK, he makes all the throws, and he has a great arm. His offensive line blocks, they have a great running game and they added Gonzalez. I mean, they gave him another weapon.
"But this is Monday, and I do not want to keep saying he's good through Friday. He's really good. I don't want to disrespect any quarterbacks in the league, but I think he's progressing really fast to be in the top five or six in the league. He's that good."
No one knows that better than the Bears.
NOTES AND QUOTES
Any possible interest the Bears might have in trading for disgruntled Bills wide receiver Terrell Owens was downplayed at Halas Hall on Wednesday.
"We're happy with the guys we have," offensive coordinator Ron Turner said. "We really are. We're excited about the young receivers that we have. They're not playing like young receivers. They're playing well, and I think they're going to continue to get better. We're just going to keep trying to develop them and get the consistency we're looking for. That's where our focus is."
22-year-old Earl Bennett leads the Bears with 15 catches and 190 receiving yards, followed closely by 22-year-old rookie Johnny Knox (14 catches, 190 yards) and the 26-year-old Hester (14-189). Running back Matt Forte is next with 13 catches for 92 yards, and then tight end Greg Olsen with 10 receptions for 94 yards.
Owens, who has 12 catches for 202 yards, will be 36 in December, and he didn't get an endorsement from quarterback Jay Cutler, who was asked what he'd say if the personnel department asked him about the former Pro Bowl receiver.
"I don't think they're going to," Cutler said. "I think they'll keep that upstairs."
Cutler was asked in jest if he had texted or tweeted Owens.
"I don't know T.O.," he said.
But have you watched his reality show?
"I did watch it a few times," he said, "it was humorous." ...
Rookie offensive lineman Lance Louis, who was charged with misdemeanor assault on Tuesday stemming from a fight last year with San Diego State teammate Nick Sandford, had little to say on the matter Wednesday.
"I'm not talking about it," Louis said. "I've got nothing to say on it. I can't talk about it right now. It's a legal matter. It's being handled. That's about it."
Louis, a seventh-round draft choice, has been a game-day inactive in each of the first four weeks. ...
Cutler doesn't begrudge his old Broncos team its 5-0 start, which is one of the biggest surprises of the early season.
"I'm happy for them," Cutler said. "I played for the Broncos, so I've got a lot of friends over there, and I'm happy for those guys."
But Cutler did not get to watch their Sunday victory over the Patriots.
"I was on a plane," he said.
QUOTE TO NOTE
"I don't think we've reached our peak by any means. I think we can get a lot better, and I'm looking forward to it." – Offensive coordinator Ron Turner on his unit, which is No. 7 in scoring but only 22nd in total yards.
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