MINNEAPOLIS -- Even in victory, the Minnesota Vikings appeared bewildered, shell-shocked, barely a "woo" among them as they trudged toward their locker room Sunday after one of the weirder games any of them -- or any of those viewing -- are likely to witness.
You can watch football your entire life and never see a face-mask call on an apparent game-winning field goal like the penalty that wiped one off the board for Minnesota in overtime.
You can watch an awful lot of it and not see a coach have his kicker attempt a 47-yard field goal on second down -- also in OT -- as the Chicago Bears' Marc Trestman did with Robbie Gould, who is one of the most accurate in the history of the game but left it wide right.
Bears fans watching Sunday have, in fact, never seen a better statistical performance by one of their wide receivers as the one turned in by Alshon Jeffery, the 23-year-old in his second NFL season who finished with 249 yards and two touchdowns on 12 receptions to set a new franchise record by breaking his own single-game mark of 215 yards, set in Week 5.
And they most certainly have not seen a performance of that level be obscured by the absurdity of all that surrounded it.
"And then I just see these big palms come out of nowhere and just snag it," Marshall said. "It was one of the great catches I've ever seen."
"I wish we had won," he said of a game that instead ended 23-20 in the Vikings' favor, sealed finally by Blair Walsh's 34-yard field goal 13 minutes, 17 seconds into overtime. "Especially for the team and what we were trying to accomplish, but also for my man over there. It sucks when you have a big day and you lose."
It stinks as well when the Bears' defensive front four plays with seemingly more aggressiveness and gets to the quarterback for five sacks and eight quarterback hurries but still allows Adrian Peterson -- though one of the greatest backs in the game, but on this day still recovering from a groin pull -- also turn in another all-timer with 211 rushing yards on 35 carries.
It's easy to confuse exciting with great, to mistake outstanding individual performances for excellence overall. But this was not great, not as a game and not for the Bears, who see their dwindling, but still possible, playoff chances dwindle that much further after falling to 6-6.
"It hurts because we needed it to stay tied for first [place]," Bears offensive tackle Jermon Bushrod said. "Now we need a lot more help, and we need to win out. We needed to win out anyway. We just needed this win. We needed this game. All week we stressed how important it was. We just couldn't get it done."
Nor, in retrospect, could the game's officials, who managed to be in the forefront of a game that demanded our attention on its own with a series of bizarre calls. It included a delay of game penalty on Bushrod for seemingly tossing the ball away after the whistle on the first series in overtime following a McCown sack, fumble and recovery by Bushrod at midfield.
"That was frustration by myself," Bushrod said. "You play hard all game, all game, all game, then you let something you don't want to happen happen. I got frustrated and just tossed the ball. I thought they overreacted, but it is what it is. I don't know."
Who does know how to explain squandering numerous chances, including one in the fourth quarter that should have swung the game in the Bears' favor for good after a Khaseem Greene interception?
Leading 20-17 with 6:57 left in regulation, the Bears lost possession at their own 18-yard line on a bizarre pass play that ended up in the arms of offensive guard Kyle Long, who then fumbled.
Still, the Bears appeared to halt the Vikings' drive on a third-and-6 at the 14 with a stop by rookie Jon Bostic after a short pass from backup quarterback Matt Cassel to Chase Ford. Alas, Bostic was called for taunting on what appeared to be another officials' overreaction at an odd moment, which gave the Vikes a first-and-goal at the 6.
Once again, however, the figurative pendulum swung one way -- this time with Bostic bestie Greene picking off Cassel and returning it 49 yards to the 50-yard line -- then back again, hitting the Bears in the collective backside as they stalled on second-and-1 and third-and-1 on consecutive run plays from the Minnesota 41.
"It was weird. It was bizarre. Each team had a chance to end it a lot earlier," Bears guard Matt Slauson said. "It was up and down. It was tough. … That third-and-1 and fourth-and-1, that's ours, our time to shine, and it didn't happen. It's sad."
Sad especially for Gould, who experienced one of the more dramatic swings of emotion in a 15-hour period as he witnessed the birth of his baby boy at 1 a.m. Sunday in Chicago, flew to Minneapolis shortly before sunrise, missed a 66-yard field goal try at the end of regulation, then had the chance to clinch a dramatic overtime victory, only to fail on what would normally be an eminently makeable kick.
Once again, it was not that simple, as Gould was dispatched by Trestman on second-and-7 at the Vikings 29-yard line.
Trestman said he went for it on second down because he did not want to risk "a possible penalty … a fumble or something unique." Hard to call him crazy for that one, as a face-mask penalty negated a 39-yard field goal by Minnesota's Blair Walsh on the preceding series. Walsh tried again from 57 and was wide left.
"I felt we were clearly in range to get the game over at the time," Trestman said, conceding the Bears were "running the ball really well." "We have one of the best field-goal kickers in the league, certainly. Unfortunately, we didn't get it done. There's a lot of things. Robbie didn't lose the game for us. There's a lot of different ways to lose."
And it was a day that seemingly saw them all. Poor Gould didn't seem to know what to make of it all, apologizing that he "couldn't do it for my teammates like I did for my wife. It's hard to swallow."
"You give him that kick again," Slauson said, "and out of 100 times, he will make every one."
Refusing to give up on the season, Bears players were not exactly organizing a team rally, either.
"My emotions aren't really just stuck on this game; it's the season," Marshall tried to explain in the sweaty aftermath. "Anything still can happen. You never know. We've seen some crazy things in the past, but it sucks. I want to get to the playoffs, and I want to win. A lot of people in this organization deserve it. A lot of people in the city deserve it. And for us not to get it done today put us behind the 8-ball a little more."
Yep, it does.