Braunecker's 1st TD catch: 'I actually did that'

Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press
Chicago Bears tight end Ben Braunecker (82) celebrates his 18-yard touchdown reception with Anthony Miller (17) during the first half of Sunday's NFL game against the Detroit Lions in Chicago. 

By COREY STOLZENBACH
sports@dcherald.com

Ben Braunecker has been playing tackle football for approximately 14 years, but never as a kid did he dream of doing what he did on Sunday.

The 2012 Forest Park graduate has been with the Chicago Bears since 2016 after signing with them as an undrafted free agent out of Harvard. He’s been on and off the practice squad since then. Braunecker has often played on special teams and sparsely at tight end for Chicago. He had seven career receptions entering Sunday’s NFC North showdown at Soldier Field against the Detroit Lions. Braunecker increased that total to 10 NFL catches, which includes one he’s likely never to forget.

Chicago found itself in a 6-0 deficit with time winding down in the first half. Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky aired one out to the corner of the right end zone. Braunecker positioned himself to best Detroit safety Will Harris for a two-handed grab as he was tackled to the ground. He maintained the ball in his possession as he rose up in the end zone for an 18-yard touchdown reception, the first of his career, with 25 seconds to play until halftime. Teammates Allen Robinson and Anthony Miller celebrated with Braunecker as his catch was the equalizer in the game.

Braunecker said everything at that point was a blur, and that he couldn’t hear what his teammates said to him in front of a roaring crowd in the Windy City. Emotions were high. The last time he caught a touchdown pass was when he hauled in eight of them as a consensus All-American his senior season at Harvard in 2015. The former Ranger did not believe what he had just done.

“I thought it would get called back or something like that,” Braunecker told The Herald by phone Monday morning. “I didn’t believe that it was going to actually stand until I was on kickoff that I had to run down and cover, and I was like, ‘Wow. I actually did that, but hold on, I still got a job to do.’”

Braunecker described the play as a corner route where he broke away from the quarterback and had to look up in the sky to try to find the football. He said he had to gauge his speed and direction upon locating the ball, all of which he said happens within a second. Braunecker said he was the intended target on the play because the plan was he would be the best option by the nature of the route if Chicago faced man-to-man coverage.

“I saw the safety over me indicating man coverage,” he said. “I knew at that moment it was, ‘Alright, this is it. It’s go time. It’s time to perform. Everything you’ve been working for is this next step, but once the ball was snapped, all of that went out the window.”

Braunecker said Trubisky threw a perfect ball to where he could make the catch. He added he had to go full extension to make the play, and said he had good hand placement. Braunecker made sure to squeeze the ball as tight as he could once he got a hold of it.

He finished with 42 yards to complement those three receptions and touchdown grab. Braunecker’s first-career score helped the Bears prevail, 20-13, and snap a four-game losing streak. He said anytime the team gets a win, especially one that snaps a four-game skid, it’s a step in the right direction. Braunecker added anytime the players can prove to the coaching staff, the fans and, most importantly, themselves that they can get it done, it’s only more power to them going forward.

The Forest Park alumnus told reporters after Sunday’s game that he had been dreaming about his first touchdown for quite sometime, according to NBCSports.com. Braunecker told The Herald doubt starts to creep in after a couple of years, but he was only mildly concerned if he ever would get his first touchdown. He said he was staying positive, knowing he was good enough and to make the most of the opportunity when he got one.

Braunecker said on Monday that he likes what football has done for him, and that’s what’s kept him going. He knows that at this level he can’t play for fun anymore, but that doesn’t mean he can’t have fun while he plays it. Braunecker said playing football at the professional level is probably the hardest thing he’s ever going to do, likening it to living two lives at once. He thanked his parents, Brian and Kristine, for giving him stable support through a demanding and intense business. Braunecker said the game has forced him to change and adapt to become a better athlete and a better person to get his job done.

“I’ve learned to deal with pressure a lot better, adjusting to the highs and lows,” he said. “Football is like a microcosm of life in some sense where you have to work together with other people, with your teammates, whether you like them or not. You’ve got to adjust to the pain of defeat. You have to learn to deal with that and learn to deal with the success of victory as well.”

Braunecker said many people from Ferdinand and teammates from college reached out to congratulate him on Sunday, and that continued into Monday. He said Forest Park was a good starting point for him, and that everybody was so closely knit. Braunecker added everybody cared about and thought highly of one another. He said they worked together to make it through their problems in their daily lives, such as dealing with a breakup or a geometry test. Braunecker was part of the first winning season in Forest Park history when the team went 8-3 in 2010 with a trip to the sectional semifinals.

He said getting his first touchdown catch on Sunday after everything he’s been through was worth the wait. The Bears travel to Los Angeles for a Sunday Night Football game against the Rams. Chicago has other options at tight end in Adam Shaheen, who was inactive against the Lions, and also Trey Burton, but Braunecker isn’t worried about how much time he’ll see at the position going forward.

“I haven’t really heard much about that,” Braunecker said. “It’s really just about me doing my job to the best of my ability, and then letting the rest take care of itself.”




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