"We suck." These simple, motivational words were uttered
most publicly by safety Mike Brown to the media following an October 9 loss to
the Cleveland Browns. Chicago had led that game into the fourth quarter until
Brown's secondary gave up two late Trent Dilfer touchdown passes to lose. After
this fourth game of the season, the Bears were 1-3. The NFC North division
never looked more winnable, yet the Bears did not seem to be able to take what
was so clearly in their grasp.
Circumstances surrounding the 2005 Chicago Bears, coupled
with the 1-3 start, rendered it unimaginable that they might pull together one
of their best seasons on the 20th anniversary of the 1985 championship team.
They did end up having a great season, but one that still failed to live up to
the expectations that were built.
During the 2004 season, Bears General Manager Jerry Angelo
took harsh criticism for failing to sign an available veteran quarterback, such
as Kurt Warner, to back up Rex Grossman. The young passer was lost for the
season in its third week, and with him the club's fortunes fell at the hands of
the terrible Jonathan Quinn and unseasoned Craig Krenzel.
Angelo's blueprint remained the same in 2005. Despite having
another shot at Warner, and other veteran passers such as Brad Johnson and Jay
Fiedler being available, Angelo again went with young backups and did not
overspend for a veteran. The thinking was that Grossman, who never suffered an
injury in high school or college, had a simple run of bad luck and would be on
to a brighter portion of his career. So the team drafted Kyle Orton, a one time
Heisman Trophy candidate, in the fourth round and was determined to go with he
and Chad Hutchinson as backups.
Late in the first quarter of the Bears' second preseason
game at St. Louis, Grossman was knocked to the ground after releasing a pass.
The quarterback bounced up and limped toward the sidelines before collapsing,
calling for medical staff and clutching his leg. As he was loaded onto a cart
and hauled to the locker room, Grossman's face said exactly what fans did not
want to know about the team's 2005 fortunes. During the game it was announced
Grossman had suffered a broken ankle, and may be finished for the season. "Sh*t
happens," Grossman announced to a live television audience and stunned
reporters following the game.
Angelo declared that the team would be in good hands with
their new starter, Chad Hutchinson, who had filled in as best he could at the
end of 2004. This team now had a new offensive coordinator in Ron Turner, and a
beefed-up offensive line, so it was thought that Hutchinson's play would
improve. It took only the next preseason game with Hutchinson as the starter
for the team to change its mind. Following a miserable performance, Hutchinson
was released, and the rookie Orton was installed as the team's starter. Many
observers, such as football analyst Hub Arkush, pronounced doom for any team
that started a rookie quarterback.
Orton played well for a rookie in the team's preseason
finale and prepared for opening day on September 11th in Washington. Around the
same time, Sports Illustrated released its 2005 NFL Preview edition, and writer
Paul "Dr. Z" Zimmerman pronounced the Bears the worst team in football, ranking
them 32nd among 32 teams. Little did anyone, let alone Zimmerman, know that
eggs were readying to be launched at the writer's face.
What the Bears did have in 2005, which would have to be
relied upon, was its defense. The unit had played strong in 2004 despite losing
starters Mike Brown and Brian Urlacher for most of the year. To address the
previous season's injury woes, the Bears hired strength and conditioning coach
Rusty Jones, who revamped the player's diets and workout programs to emphasize
endurance and health.
The defense proved it would have a strong year from the
beginning, holding Washington to nine points on no touchdowns. Unfortunately,
the offense showed it would have problems with its rookie quarterback, scoring
only one touchdown following a fumble on the second half kickoff. Despite late
game drives, which each ended in an Orton fumble and interception, the Bears
The following week the Bears hosted 1-0 Detroit, who were at
the time favorites to win the division. Chicago annihilated the Lions 38-6,
leading to a showdown the following week with resurgent Cincinnati in Chicago.
Against the Bengals, Chicago fell behind early on the Carson Palmer-to-Chad
Johnson connection and could never recover. They lost that game 24-7, then fell
to Cleveland, leading to Brown's timely comments.
What seemed to be a different team hit the field the next
week against the Minnesota Vikings, and the Bears dominated from start to
finish. They won 28-3, surely helped by controversy spinning around their
opponents. A side story to that game was the play of Paul Edinger. Prior to the
'05 season, Angelo dumped the most accurate kicker in Bears history for veteran
Doug Brien, and Edinger was scooped up by the Vikings. To this point in the
season, Edinger was having a fantastic year inside the Viking dome, but on this
day in Chicago, he would miss two tries and have a third blocked. Brien didn't
work out for the Bears either, having been released for unproven rookie Robbie
Beating the downtrodden Vikings was one thing and did not
necessarily signal a turnaround of the Bears' fortunes, but the following week
may have proven at least some critics wrong. On October 23rd in a rainy Soldier
Field, the Bears defeated the Baltimore Ravens, evening their record at 3-3.
The following week they had the chance to win three in a row for the first time
since 2001, and did so in a stirring overtime victory against Detroit.
The Bears went on to win their next six games. Several were
against "pushover" teams: the New Orleans Saints in Baton Rogue, the San
Francisco 49ers in a swirling wind, and their first victory over the Green Bay
Packers at home since 1993. Sandwiched in between were defensively dominating
games over playoff teams Carolina and Tampa Bay.
On December 11th, a completely new respect had been given
the Chicago Bears as they traveled to Pittsburgh. Chicago now had a 9-3 record,
winners of eight straight. Pittsburgh was on a losing streak, while their
opponents were being compared to the only other Bears team to win a Super Bowl,
20 years in the past. The remainder of the season looked bright, and even
Grossman had recovered to the point of being able to play again.
Orton did start the Steeler game, but could not keep up with
a bruising Pittsburgh running game. The Steelers won 21-9, and Chicago's
defense looked exposed. Not to be forgotten in this game was the fact that
Chicago's two starting safeties, Chris Harris and Mike Brown, were out with
The following week in Chicago's only night game of the
season, the Bears hosted Michael Vick and the high-powered Atlanta Falcons on a
10-degree night. An outstanding defensive performance was overshadowed by the
return of Rex Grossman, who started the second half and helped seal a 16-3
The following week, on Christmas night, Grossman started his
first game since September of 2004, and helped lead his team to a narrow 24-17
victory over the Packers in Green Bay. It was Chicago's first sweep of their
rivals since 1991, and the possibility of home field advantage throughout the
After the Green Bay win, coupled with a Vikings loss, the
Bears won their first NFC North title, rendering a New Year's Day matchup in
Minnesota pointless in the standings. The decision was made, to much debate by
fans and analysts, to play backups through the majority of the game. The Bears
lost 34-10, and finished the season 11-5, a better number of wins than the
previous two seasons for the team.
Chicago watched the opening week of the playoffs,
comfortable in the fact that since 1990, only two teams with a first-round bye
had lost their first playoff game. Unfortunately, belying this statistic was
the fact that one of those losses was by the Bears themselves in 2001. Even
worse, the only other time this happened is when the Carolina Panthers beat
Lovie Smith's St. Louis Rams at home in 2003. Ironically, following Carolina's
shutout win at New York over the Giants, their next task was to come to Chicago
to play the Bears.
The Bears had so soundly defeated Carolina at Soldier Field
in November, players exuded an air of confidence for their first playoff game
in their new stadium. "They might think they can beat us, but we know we can
beat them," was a comment from one Bear defender. Lost in the jubilance
surrounding the previous win over Carolina was the fact that speedy receiver
Steve Smith had caught passes for over 150 yards against the vaunted Bears
defense. Chicago's coaching staff had to know that they would need to contain
Smith again to win the game.
Before a rousing crowd on January 15th, the Bear offense
came out as many predicted, throwing the ball. They didn't complete a pass on
their first series, however, and on Carolina's first offensive play Smith
streaked for a touchdown. The Bears never led in the game, and became the third
team in the history of the bye to exit the playoffs without making a stir.
Regardless of the final result, the 2005 Chicago Bears
proved to their fans and detractors that they were a team to be taken seriously
in the future. With 21 of 22 starters under contract for 2006, the future
indeed looks bright.