For over four decades, the NFL had played 16-game regular seasons. America’s biggest and most popular professional sports league had never taken more time to add more games to its schedule. But that era is coming to an official end, and a humiliating mark for the league’s charter franchise (no less!) has been cemented in stone.
The Bears have finished pro football’s 16-game era, 42 years to be exact (1978-2020), without one single-season 4,000 yard passer. Not Jay Cutler, a player the Bears traded multiple first-round picks for. Not Mitchell Trubisky, who was once the hallowed No. 2 overall pick in the NFL Draft. Not even Jim McMahon, the only Bears quarterback to win a championship in that same time frame. Not one quarterback managed to eclipse 4,000 yards in 42 seasons. Zero. Zéro. Cero. Sero. Zilch. Nada. Nula. Nul. Null. Nulle.
Only the New York Jets, who also have enjoyed anything but quarterback stability in the past four-plus decades, can share the same substandard company with Chicago. (But that comes with a notable disclaimer that the Jets have a 4,000 yard passer in their overall history, if barely).
Now, sure, the Bears have had their fair share of well-documented quarterback failures. They have their reasonable excuses. Sometimes it isn’t your day, or half-century. No matter what you try, it doesn’t work out. It happens to the best of us. Totally understandable.
A different picture is painted when four separate expansion franchises—the oldest of which sit at a whole 27-years-old—manage to beat your 101-year-old organization to that mark. The failure to see one quarterback reach 4,000 passing yards is placed in a starker context when largely every major rule change since the inception of the 16-game season has been in favor of the forward pass. None are more infamous than the eponymous “Mel Blount Rule,” otherwise known as a ban on contact on receivers within five yards, which ironically was implemented in 1978. And that one rule was enacted before the league shifted away from a set standard of ball-control offenses with tough, complementary defense. The list of tangible rules favoring offenses since a Steelers Hall of Fame cornerback made Park Avenue executives deem his play too unfair for quarterbacks and receivers, is almost too extensive to do proper justice.
Yet somehow, some way, Bears quarterbacks managed to not take advantage of any of those fresh privileges for a now basic statistical mark across 42 separate years. Some of those failures were luck (a lot of it was luck), but a lot of it was who the Bears have become to their core. There are no more two perfect statistics—one of two teams to never throw for 4,000 yards in the 16-game era, and the only team to never throw for 4,000 yards—to define the only franchise in NFL history that has played more than 1,400 games. This is who the Bears have been, for worse or worse.
If there’s any consolation to Chicago’s woes in this much-maligned department, the latter woeful statistic might finally come to a merciful end with the 17-game season. It might happen this fall, too! I, for one, can’t think of think anything more emblematic of Bears’ quarterbacking than Andy Dalton being the probable first 4,000 yard passer in franchise history thanks to an extra game. One could call that story poetic, maybe even beautiful.