October 16th, 2006. For Bears fans, this day stands as one of the greatest moments in the history of the franchise. The 5-0 Chicago Bears, led by the finally-healthy Rex Grossman and the smothering defense of Brian Urlacher, Mike Brown, and Tommie Harris, had the city making their Super Bowl reservations as the team rolled over its competition. The Bears had what seemed to be an easy win on Monday night, with Dennis Green and his Arizona Cardinals already written off after a 1-4 stumble out of the gate and rookie quarterback Matt Leinart making only his second NFL start. But were the Bears really who we thought they were? Follow me below the fold for a recap of one of the most exciting games in Bears history...
It was Monday night in Arizona, and while the new University of Phoenix stadium was decked out in red and white, the stands were filled with the familiar blue and orange of Chicago Bears fans. Cardinal Larry Fitzgerald also was watching from the sideline, taking away Arizona's most potent offensive weapon and leaving rookie QB Matt Leinart with little hope of victory. It was Rex Grossman, however, who looked like the rookie in this game. The Bears started with the ball and good field position after Rasheid Davis returned the ball to the 37. Grossman wanted to take his deep shot early, and had a wide-open Bernard Berrian 40 yards downfield, but his pass sailed over his head to go incomplete. After a Thomas Jones run went for a long yard, Grossman's third down pass bounced in and out of the hands of an Arizona defender before it could get to Davis in the slot. Arizona took a fair catch on the punt and took possession at their own 29.
Matt Leinart, who was a missed Neil Rackers field goal away from being 1-0 as an NFL quarterback, showed the home crowd why he was the team's first round draft pick. Edgerrin James wasn't able to pick up many yards on the ground - he ended up with 36 carries for only 55 yards - but completions to Anquan Boldin and Leonard Pope moved the Cards into the red zone. With James still getting stymied at the line by a strong defensive line effort, Brian Johnson took a short pass at the 15 yard line, shook off a onrushing Lance Briggs, and took the ball all the way to paydirt in what was the first first-quarter touchdown allowed by the Bears that season. Arizona took an early 7-0 lead and Leinart looked to be worth every penny the team had invested in him.
Grossman, however, was still struggling to get his momentum. Starting with the ball on the 21, he was able to complete short passes to Mushin Muhammad and Thomas Jones to put the Bears in an third and two. With the Cardinals thinking run, Grossman loaded up another deep shot only to hit safety Antrel Rolle right in the hands. Thankfully, he couldn't hold on, but the Bears punted the ball back to a Cardinals team that had all the momentum on its side. Leinart, already seeing that the ground game was going nowhere, called the same quick pass to Boldin on first and second down, but Hunter Hillenmeyer was wise to the play and kept Arizona from getting any futher than their own 30. On third and two, Leinart was flushed from the pocket by a blitzing Brian Urlacher and threw the ball away, setting up another punt for Arizona. The Bears were able to show a small sign of life by completing a nice pass to Desmond Clark to move them 26 yards upfield, but Rex couldn't help himself: on the next third down, he way overshot Muhammad and instead found safety Aaron Francisco, who was able to return the pick all the way to the Bears 25 yard line. After two runs by James for a net loss of a yard, Anquan Boldin made an amazing move against Brian Urlacher over the middle and ran the ball in for the touchdown. Another Neil Rackers extra point put the Cardinals up 14-0 and made it look like it would be a long night for the Bears.
Arizona was looking like the Bears team everyone thought they were going to see. After the kickoff, Thomas Jones was able to set up Grossman with another manageable third down. Grossman's pass was right on the money to Bernard Berrian, but Eric Green dropped him to the grass as soon as the ball was in his hands and Berrian couldn't hold on. The Bears defense was able to respond in kind, stopping Arizona's next drive in its tracks with a group tackle on a draw for a loss of six and a great Danieal Manning pass breakup on third and twelve. Grossman wasn't done showing everyone just how bad Bad Rex could be, though. On the first play of the next drive, he set up a play action pass only to hit Arizona linebacker Gerald Hayes in the stomach with an errant pass. Hayes returned the ball to the Bears 29, putting the Cards right back into scoring position. Two false starts by Arizona put a damper on any chance they might have had of making it a three touchdown game, however. Rackers was set up for a long field goal, but wasn't able to get the ball on its target: it went wide left and set the Bears up with their best field position of the night, with the ball on their own 42.
Anyone could see how bad of a night Grossman was having, including the Bears' playcallers. They gave two handoffs and a quick pass to Thomas Jones on the next possession, but he could only squeeze out nine yards on the three plays. Vasher, however, kept making plays once Arizona had the ball again, with a fantastic open field tackle on Troy Walters to keep him from converting a third and nine. The Cardinals once again kicked it away to a rookie out of Miami, Devin Hester. After getting slowed up on the last couple of punts, he finally found some running room and took the ball 22 yards before getting wrapped up on the sideline.
While Hester set the Bears up with good field position, Grossman again found a way to blow it. On first down, he got hit from behind by an untouched Bertrand Berry, who separated Rex from both his helmet and the football. Leinart quickly went to work moved the ball down to the Bears 18 yard line with efficient passing. But with time ticking away, Dennis Green was looking to work the clock as well as the scoreboard. The Cards went for three straight rushes, which moved them forward nine yards and then back ten after Anquan Boldin was caught holding Nate Vasher on third down. Now facing third and fifteen, the Bears sent the whole house after Leinart, with Tank Johnson breaking through to scare Leinart into throwing it away. Rackers was on target this time, and with only 4:20 left in the first half, the Bears were down by 17 and had found absolutely no rhythm to their offense.
Rex was still looking for the deep ball, and while he was able to move the ball on another nice pass to Dez Clark, who led the day with four receptions for 61 yards, any momentum the Bears had going was stopped cold first by a block in back on Muhammad and then by Grossman coughing up the ball again, this time getting stripped from behind on the safety blitz and giving the Cardinals the ball on the Bears 32. Arizona had learned their lesson about trying to run against the Bears front, and instead took to the air and found Anquan Boldin for 20 yards on first down. With the ball now at the Bears 13, though, it was back to the ground game. James could only find two yards on three carries, however, and with one second left on the clock, Rackers made another field goal to make the score at half time Arizona 20, Chicago 0.
The Bears had come back from a 20 point deficit in the second half only once in franchise history, and things didn't look good, especially given that the Cardinals started the second half with the ball. Briggs and Urlacher weren't going to let history get in their way, however. 54 stopped WR Troy Walters in his tracks on second down, keeping him to a five yard gain, and 55 got a hand on Leinart's pass on third down, deflecting it out of play. Rex Grossman was starting to look good, too. With the ball back in his hands. he hit Dez Clark for one first down, setting up a 25 yard play to Rasheid Davis out of the slot. After Thomas Jones came up blank on two runs, Davis once again was able to make the third down play with a nice route good for 12 yards. With the Bears now in the red zone for the first time of the night, it was time for a shot. Bernard Berrian took a short pass and dodged two tackles to move the ball all the way down to the 3 yard line. With the Bears knocking on the door, it was time for a 2006 classic: the fullback flop. McKie took a two yard loss on the attempt, and Rex Grossman couldn't find an open receiver on the next two plays. Lovie wasn't going to go for six when he could take an easy three to put his team on the board, and Gould continued his perfect season to make it 20-3.
Gould was as good as gold on the offensive side of the ball, but his pooch kickoff skipped out of bounds and set up the Cardinals on their own 40. But the Bears defense came up big again on the next drive, with Todd Johnson running over Troy Walters to force a fourth and five. The Bears went all-out for the block on the punt and Dante Wesley got a little too much of Scott Player and not enough of the ball, however. With new life after the roughing the punter call, the Cardinals threw their way into the red zone with a 17 yard pass to Anquan Boldin and a catch-and-run by J.J. Arrington that moved the ball to the Bears 16. After another zero yard run by the Edge, Tommie Harris finally broke through to harass Matt Leinart and force him into a tough third and ten. Arrington looked to be on his way to another first down on a well-designed draw play, but Alex Brown got him by the shoestrings and kept him from converting. Rackers wasn't going to miss the chip shot, and put the Cards up by 20 again with the third quarter ticking away.
It was all defense from here on out. Bernard Berrian got overthrown again on a deep shot and couldn't hold on to a third down completion, but at least Brad Maynard was able to hit a booming punt down to the Arizona 15. With Arizona backed up, they once again tried to air it out. Rookie Mark Anderson had other ideas, though: he came off the blind side and knocked the ball away from Matt Leinart and right into the hands of a waiting Mike Brown. With two seconds left in the third quarter, Mike Brown took the ball in the last three yards to make the score Bears 10, Arizona 23. The Bears' hopes were alive again! Arizona was struggling against the Bears' resurgent defensive onslaught, and while they were able to get a nice completion over the top to Anquan Boldin to move the ball out to the Arizona 39 after the kickoff, there wasn't much more progress to be had after that. First Urlacher made a great stop on James to hold him for no gain, then Briggs came on the blitz to force an incompletion, and on third down Israel Idonije came unblocked to force another quick pass out of bounds. Devin Hester fielded the punt at the Bears 15 but had to call for a fair catch. Cedric Benson found four yards of running room on first down, but two nice plays by the Arizona safeties kept Grossman from completing his next two passes. The Bears punted away as time and hope seemed to be running out.
Despite what the scoreboard said, the Bears defense was showing no mercy. After Urlacher stopped James in his tracks on first down, the line was able to bat down the next two passes as they came full-force after Leinart. Hester had some room to run on this punt and Thomas Jones moved the ball ten more yards in the right direction after that, but once Rex Grossman had the game in his hands again, disaster followed. He had three passes go incomplete, and with the clock rapidly running out on the fourth quarter, the Bears had to go for it on fourth down. Darnell Dockett was ready for Rex's pass, and batted it to himself for an interception, then took the ball all the way down the field for an game-clinching touchdown! Lovie couldn't reach for his red flag fast enough, however, and the refs ruled that Dockett was actually down at the Arizona 26. Despite another setback, Urlacher and company stood ready to stop the Cards. Urlacher made a strong tackle to keep the Edge from getting the edge on second down, setting up a long third and ten which Arizona couldn't convert.
The Bears had the ball again, but this time it was Roberto Garza who kept the offense from gaining momentum. He had two false starts on the drive, and while Berrian finally got open for a 17 yard catch and run to give the Bears a first down, Rex Grossman once again found an open Arizona "receiver" to give the ball back to the Cardinals on their own 40. With the announcers now saying that "it's over for Arizona football" if they couldn't hold on to the lead, the Cards had a second and ten after another Edgerrin James run for no gain. They went with another run up the middle, but Hunter Hillenmeyer and Alfonso Boone were able to stand James up at the line. With James held up, Urlacher came in seemingly out of nowhere and ripped the ball straight out of James' hands. Charles Tillman, coming in on the blitz, scooped up the ball from the middle of scrum and ran untouched 40 yards for the Bears second defensive touchdown of the night. After Gould's extra point, it was Bears 17, Cardinals 23. There were only five minutes left, but there was still time enough for the Bears to pull another rabbit out of their hat.
The Bears defense was looking unblockable and unstoppable. Urlacher again showed his amazing skill at being wherever the ball is, forcing James into negative yardage on his two runs of the drive. While Boldin was open for a first down completion, the Bears came after the rookie with the blitz and forced him to throw two straight incompletions to save himself. With only three minutes left, it was now or nothing for the Bears, and they went all in on the punt. They sent the house after Player in another attempt to block the punt, but he got a booming kick away that was fielded by Hester at the Bears 17. Urlacher, who was on the field to block the kick, blocked a Cardinal instead and opened a hole for Hester, who wove his way past midfield and left three Arizona players spun around behind him. With only the kicker to beat, he put in into full gear and blew past Player's weak attempt at a tackle, and with four Cardinals attempting to catch him, ran it in the last thirty yards to tie the game. Ridiculous! Gould's extra point gave the Bears their first lead of the game, 24-23, with 2:58 left on the clock.
Time, which had been on Dennis Green's side all night, was now his biggest enemy when his offense took the field. After a good kickoff return to the 38, two quick passes to James and Boldin moved the ball out to midfield before the two minute warning. With a chance to catch their breath, the Bears sent the blitz after Leinart on the next first down, forcing him into an incompletion. Unfortunately, they were giving the Cardinals a bit too much room in the middle of the field - Boldin and Walters were able to make three catches between them to move the ball down to the Bears 31 yard line, just within Rackers' field goal range. But facing second and two on the Bears 23, they opted to go with the safe bet and kept it on the ground. The Bears, which hadn't given James an inch all night, held him to a yard on the two attempts, setting up Rackers with a 40 yard try. With an entire city holding its breath, Rackers lined up his kick during a Bears timeout. The ball was snapped, held perfectly, and was sent on its way by Rackers. But the kick held to a straight line as it made its way from the left hash down the field. It was close, too close, but it never hooked in - Rackers missed wide left again! Even Lovie Smith had to crack a smile as the kick went off its mark, and insanity ensued on the Bears' sideline. In a final cruel twist for Arizona, Rex Grossman came out to the field in a victory formation to take a knee and cement what was the greatest come-from-behind victory in modern Bears history. Final score: Bears 24, Cardinals 23.
And the people who were doubting the 2006 Bears? They found out that the Bears were who we thought they were...
Dennis Green Flips (via styles354)
This is a game that will stick with me for the rest of my life, not least of all because it was on my birthday! I think I'll have to live a long time before I get a birthday gift as good as this one. Next week, we take it back, way back, to the coming out party of a certain Bears running back - two hundred and how many yards, you say? See you then.