In 2007, the Chicago Bears were coming off a Super Bowl
appearance and were roundly expected to win their third consecutive NFC North
title, make the playoffs and contend for another NFC Conference championship.
They responded by regressing horribly on defense and seeing how the "real" Rex
Grossman played when the cards were down. That year, the Bears finished 7-9,
far below expectations.
During 2008's training camp at Bourbonnais, IL, the Bears
seemed to be back to their usual "us vs. the world, we're the only ones that
believe" attitude. In interviews with local radio stations, players predicted
at least that the team would surprise dissenters, and potentially that the
playoffs were in the team's immediate future.
In as roller coaster of a season seen in Chicago at any time
since 2001, the 2008 Bears did indeed have plenty of surprises in store for
onlookers. They would shock the league with an opening-day upset, and then drop
two in maddening fashion. They rebounded to win two, then lost the most
maddening game of the season. While continuing to win games they should have in
an easy schedule, they were manhandled by division opponents when it really
In the end, the players did have the right to claim a better
season than most expected, but the title of "better than people thought" wasn't
enough to earn them a berth in the postseason. It went down to the wire-with
help from other teams and their own win the Bears might have made the playoffs
in 2008, but it didn't happen. The Bears dropped their final game of the season
to finish 9-7 and missed the playoffs for the second consecutive season.
The 2008 offseason began with members of the Bears and their
fans watching the archrival Packers winning their way to the NFC Championship
Game after finishing the regular season with a surprising 13-3 record. Perhaps
the only positive in the Bears' 7-9 record was the fact that Chicago did hand
Green Bay two of their three losses. It seemed if nothing else, the Bears could
count on Lovie Smith beating the team from Wisconsin. It was commonly thought
the chances would be even better when longtime Packer quarterback Brett Favre
announced his retirement in March after 16 years of usually dominating the
Chicago had plenty of work to do this offseason-at virtually
every position on the field. Areas of the team that seemed like strengths just
a year before now needed major attention. Additionally, distractions abounded,
none more potentially devastating than the one featuring their star player.
Middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, the face of the franchise since his rookie
year in 2000, was threatening a holdout or retirement if the terms of his 2003
$59 million contract were not restructured. The Bears eventually relented in
July, handing Urlacher a $6 million bonus and potentially $18 million in new
money with an extension, trusting that the hard-hitting Urlacher they saw late
in 2007 was the guy they were paying for and not the sluggish, dinged
linebacker of the early part of that season. Time would tell.
Urlacher was just one of the many veteran players the Bears
decided to lock up over the offseason prior to the 2008 campaign. Kicker Robbie
Gould signed the most lucrative contract for a kicker in NFL history. Tight end
Desmond Clark was extended, as was Alex Brown, proving the foible of his
benching in favor of Mark Anderson in 2007. In June, defensive tackle Tommie
Harris received a four-year, $40 million extension. And during a free agency
period that Lance Briggs attracted surprisingly little attention, the Bears
were able to re-sign their other linebacking star to a six-year, $36 million
In the flurry of re-signings, the Bears were not able to
secure the services of one player, that being wide receiver Bernard Berrian.
The Minnesota Vikings made a fast move for Berrian, acquiring his services for
six years to the tune of $42 million. This for an oft-injured player with
questionable hands during his tenure with the Bears. Some criticized Bears
General Manager Jerry Angelo for not using the franchise tag on Berrian, a move
that would have assured the Bears' being able to keep the receiver for one year
at approximately $7 million, a move that may have been smart given their dearth
of talent at the position. A gap in talent that was extended when veteran
Muhsin Muhammad was released.
Another addition by subtraction occurred when safety Adam
Archuleta was released. The Ram and Redskin castoff played one terrible season
in Chicago, costing the Bears a sixth-round pick, over $5 million, and
promising young safety Chris Harris as he was traded to Carolina after
While all of the former transactions were going on, the Bears,
as always, had to figure out their quarterback situation. In 2007, Rex Grossman
entered the season after taking the Bears to the Super Bowl via one of the
team's better quarterback seasons in its history. Grossman faltered in the
season's first three games, then gave way to Brian Griese, who started the next
six games. Griese was injured, then Grossman played stronger as he started the
next four games. After Grossman was once again injured after 4 more starts,
former starter turned third-stringer Kyle Orton started the final three games
of the season.
Angelo quickly re-signed Orton to a modest two-year contract,
and Grossman for just one more season, and Griese was traded to the Buccaneers
in March. Following the signings, Smith announced there would be an open
competition at quarterback in training camp, perhaps for the first time in
Chicago since 1999.
Angelo was quick to remind observers that free agency for the
Bears in 2008 meant re-signing their own players, so it was no surprise when
the Bears made no major moves during the period during which teams usually fill
holes. Chicago did sign receivers Brandon Lloyd and former Bear Marty Booker,
giving the Bears perhaps the most dubious receiver corps in the league. Also
unaddressed were major issues on the aging offensive line, especially after the
underachieving Fred Miller was released.
In the 2008 NFL Draft, the Bears held the 14th overall
selection in the fourth round. They also owned an additional pick in the third
round from a 2007 trade with San Diego, and were able to move up from their
third-round selection to San Francisco's when the league penalized the 49ers
for alleged tampering with Lance Briggs.
The Bears were roundly expected to select an offensive tackle
with their first round pick, and also figured to need a running back to team
with the questionable Cedric Benson, a wide receiver, defensive tackle and
defensive backs. Chicago was thankful when their coveted choice, Vanderbilt's
Chris Williams, fell to them. In selecting Williams, they left the other first
round tackles Branden Albert, Jeff Otah, Gosder Cherilus and Sam Baker on the
In the second round they picked running back Matt Forte from
Tulane in a move they hoped would motivate the slumping Benson. With their
third-round picks they selected defensive tackle Marcus Harrison and receiver
Earl Bennett. With their remaining picks the Bears selected a guard, two
defensive backs, a tight end, two defensive linemen, a linebacker and a wide
receiver. Six of those eight picks would make the team.
Minicamps and offseason activities for the '08 Bears were
eventful mainly because of one reason: Cedric Benson. Benson was first arrested
in May on a boating while intoxicated charge levied in his college town of
Austin, TX. After allegedly refusing to cooperate with the arresting officers,
Chicago's starting running back was pepper-sprayed and hauled away. After
acquiring a high-profile attorney and screaming his innocence in this matter,
Benson was again arrested on a DUI charge just 5 weeks later. Following the
second arrest, the Bears cut Benson, naming rookie Matt Forte their starter
before he was even signed to a contract. Thus ended the Bears career of the
player the Bears made the fourth overall selection of the 2005 draft, and for
whom successful back Thomas Jones was offloaded.
So in July, the Bears reported to their summer headquarters at
Bourbonnais, resuming their "with us or against us" cries. Camp opened with the
announcement that all-world returner and mediocre receiver Devin Hester was a
holdout and would not report without a renegotiation of the remaining two years
on his contract. Within days Hester would return after being allegedly being
fined $30,000, and three days later it was announced he received a four-year
contract extension worth up to $40 million with incentives heavily tied to
Following a 1-3 preseason during which their defense was
shredded by first-through-third strings of the opponents, most analysts picked
the Bears to finish anywhere from 4-12 to a high of 8-8 or 9-7 on the year.
Orton was named the starting quarterback after neither he nor Grossman looked
like an NFL quarterback, and Angelo cut his second and third-round picks from
the previous season in defenders Dan Bauzin and Michael Okwo. It was hardly a
preseason that inspired confidence in the 2008 Bears, especially when top pick
Williams went down with a back injury in his very first practice, and defensive
tackle Harris continued to be slowed by nagging injuries. These developments
brought into question Angelo's practice of drafting players that had been taken
off other team's boards due to injury concerns.
The Bears traveled to always-powerful Indianapolis for a Super
Bowl 41 rematch, and very few predicted that the Bears would have a chance.
They responded with the biggest upset of the week, beating the Colts 28-13
behind a remarkable debut by Matt Forte and a strong defense. Granted, the
Bears were helped by the fact that Colts quarterback Peyton Manning was coming
off a serious knee injury and their hosts looked generally disorganized, but
nevertheless it was a strong start to the season.
The Bears followed up the opening day road upset with their
first of what would be three maddening losses on the season, the first
happening at Carolina on September 14th. The Bears led 17-13 in the fourth
quarter on a scorching day, but after failing to convert on a fourth-and-1 with
less than two minutes remaining, the Panthers drove the field to win the game.
Further frustrating on this day were two fumbles by tight end Greg Olson and
Orton missing a wide-open touchdown pass.
The following week the frustration quotient was increased when
the Bears hosted the Buccaneers in their home opener, when the Bears wore dark
jerseys in their home opener for the first time since 2004 (thankfully). Again,
the Bears led 24-14 in the fourth quarter, but a relentless Tampa offense led
by Bear castoff Griese shredded the Bear defense late in the game. Griese would
attempt 68 passes on the day, and late in the contest his receivers came open
time and time again over the middle, hitting every hole in the Chicago cover
two scheme. Tampa would eventually tie the game 24-24 at the end of regulation.
Overtime began with the Bears forcing a Tampa punt. On
Chicago's possession, receiver Rashied Davis dropped a perfect first-down pass
at the Tampa 35, one of many drops that would hamper the newly re-signed Davis
in 2008. Then came the play that would be remembered far beyond 2008 in
Chicago. The Bears defense rebounded, pinning the Buccaneers at their own 10
and apparently forcing them to punt. But at the end of that third-down play,
cornerback Charles Tillman launched himself into a pile, retaliating after Buc
tackle Jeremy Trueblood allegedly took a swing at a Bear. (Trueblood would
later claim his ahem, manhood was attacked
by a Bear in the pile.) Tillman
was flagged for 15 yards, and the Bear defense then collapsed. Tampa drove the
field, kicked a field goal, and defeated the Bears 27-24. Chicago was 1-2.
But then in this roller-coaster season, the maligned Bears
defense stepped up the following week on Sunday Night Football, beating an
Eagles team missing Brian Westbrook 24-20. The game featured a monster
goal-line stand by the Bears defense, and the entire 11-man unit was named
"Horse Trailer Player of the Game" by the NBC crew covering the game.
After upsetting the Eagles, the Bears were back in the hunt,
taking care of the lowly Detroit Lions 34-7, moving their record to 3-2. At the
same time, Orton was getting noticed as a bona-fide NFL quarterback, a term not
used near a signalcaller from Chicago in several decades.
But again, just when it seemed the Bears were headed in the
right direction, they faltered in disgraceful fashion. At Atlanta on October
12, Chicago went down 19-13 late in the fourth quarter, and it looked as though
the Bears would lose. But Orton directed the Bears on a legitimate game-winning
drive, hitting Davis on a 17-yard pass with just 11 seconds remaining in the
game. Sure thing, right? Wrong. The Bears squibbed the ensuing kickoff, then
allowed the Falcons to complete one quick pass for 26 yards with one second
remaining in the game. Falcon kicker Jason Elam then calmly nailed a 48-yard
field goal, and for the third time in 2008, the Bears snatched defeat from the
jaws of victory.
The Bears did rebound from the Falcon loss that dropped them
to 3-3 with a crazy 48-41 victory over the Vikings in Chicago. Orton had the
game of his career when he threw for 283 yards and two touchdowns, special
teams added two more touchdowns, and Forte one.
The following week versus Detroit, Orton injured his ankle,
and Grossman replaced him for the next game and a half. Grossman looked like
the Grossman of 2007 in his 2008 opportunity, solidifying his exit out of
Chicago following the season, and the Bears lost to the undefeated Titans after
narrowly beating the winless Lions.
For the remainder of the 2008 season, the Bears would win the
winnable games, but dropped the games that counted. In November, the Bears
played two games that they and their coach announced publicly would define
their season. And they lost both.
In the first at Green Bay on November 16th, the Bears were
manhandled 37-3. Chicago's defense sold out to stop Aaron Rodger's passing,
then were killed by the Packer rushing attack. The Packers would falter in
their own right, however, leaving the Bears and Vikings to battle for division
supremacy at the Metrodome November 27th. The Bears jumped to a 7-0 lead and
looked poised to move the score to 14-0 when they had first and goal inside the
Viking 5. But another goal line stand would doom the Bears-just as one did at
Carolina and Atlanta. When Forte couldn't push the ball in on fourth down, the
Bears figured they still had the Vikings pinned at their 1.
But on the very first play from their one-yard line, Viking
quarterback Gus Frerotte hit a wide-open Berrian for a 99-yard touchdown pass,
after Tillman blew his man coverage. The score blew the game open in the
Vikings' favor, and Minnesota would go on to win 34-14, basically taking an
insurmountable lead in the NFC North division that night.
Following the loss to Minnesota in November, the Bears still
had a minimal chance of making the playoffs with help from the Vikings. The
Bears did win 3 of their last 4 games in dramatic fashion, but lost with the
season on the line at Houston. Had they won, due to an improbable Oakland
victory at Tampa and a Dallas loss at Philadelphia, the Bears would have
squeaked in as the wildcard team with a win. But alas, because the Bears
couldn't take care of their own business, it was not to be.
In a year in which Chicago saw their other favorite team, the
Cubs, favored to win the World Series only to choke in the end, it was no shock
to see the Bears choke away their chances as well.
But it was disappointing.