PITTSBURGH — Vance McDonald heard the dreaded “double thud” and then just started running.
The first “thud” came from Pittsburgh Steelers kicker Chris Boswell’s right foot smacking the ball while attempting a 35-yard field goal late in the first half last Sunday in Chicago. The second thud came when Bears defensive back Sherrick McManis blocked it.
McDonald turned around and saw Chicago’s Marcus Cooper sprinting downfield after the ball popped up perfectly into his hands. So McDonald, only on the field because of an ankle injury had briefly sidelined Jesse James, took off. The backup tight end never lost belief he could chase down Cooper, even though the Steelers end zone was 80 yards away and Cooper had a considerable head start.
“It didn’t even cross my mind. I was going to catch him no matter what,” McDonald said. “Whether it would happen or not is a different story. But in my mind, I was going to catch him.”
McDonald did, but with more than a little help from Cooper . Thinking he was in the clear — and really, he was — Cooper decided a little showboating was in order as he approached the goal line for the second touchdown of his career. So Cooper started jogging at the Pittsburgh 20. By the time he crossed the 5-yard line, Cooper was practically strutting.
And McDonald was still coming.
“I just kind of thought ‘OK, there’s no way this is really about to happen,'” McDonald said. “Like he’s slowing down but at least he’s going to cross the goal line. But then he didn’t and I was just like ‘Golly, what were you thinking?’ But it happened really fast.”
McDonald reached Cooper just before he went into the end zone, swatting the ball out of his hands in the process.
“I knew at that point if I could take away possession of the ball to stop them from scoring on the play, then that’s what I was going to for,” McDonald said. “I was actually trying to hit it backward to keep it from going in the end zone, but that didn’t happen. It was 87 yards. I had a lot of time to think.”
A scramble ensued, one that ended with Steelers punter Jordan Berry — an Australian — punching the ball out of bounds. The Bears thought it was a touchdown. The Steelers thought it was a fumble and the half was over, sprinting to the locker room believing they were only down seven.
The officials weren’t sure what to make of it before awarding the Bears a shot at a field goal of their own after ruling Berry illegally swatted the ball. McDonald’s hustle evoked memories of Buffalo wide receiver Don Beebe chasing down Dallas defensive lineman Leon Lett late in the Super Bowl a quarter century ago.
Beebe’s dash gave the Bills a small moral victory in a game they would lose by five touchdowns. McDonald’s ability to save four points factored in the game pushing to overtime. It also helped his street cred in the locker room. The Steelers acquired McDonald a month ago from San Francisco. He’s still waiting to make his first catch. It’s hard to imagine it being more memorable than his first forced fumble.
McDonald earned a “table tap” — a sign of respect for a heads up play — during the team’s usual Monday review. Then it was back to work preparing for a visit to Baltimore.
Guard David DeCastro likened it to a similar play by Darrius Heyward-Bey in Week 17 last season in an otherwise meaningless finale against Cleveland. Backup quarterback Landry Jones threw an interception the Browns appeared to return for a score. The automatic review, however, showed that Heyward-Bey ended up swatting the ball free before the goal line. The save helped Pittsburgh stay in a game it rallied to win.
“Just pure hustle,” DeCastro said. “It’s great. It shows the atmosphere and kind of what’s expected. Vance is a great guy and he knows that.”
NOTES: G Ramon Foster (thumb), S Sean Davis (ankle), T Marcus Gilbert (hamstring), LB James Harrison (illness) and S Mike Mitchell (hamstring) are questionable for the Ravens. Foster said he expects to play. … DE Stephon Tuitt (left biceps) and LB T.J. Watt (groin) practiced for the third straight day and will play.