Bears

Top Bears Moments: 50-41

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NBC Sports Chicago

Top Bears Moments: 50-41

NBC Sports Chicago has identified the 100 greatest Bears moments, the “Hallowed Hundred” which are etched in memories throughout the history of the organization that started it all.

Some of those moments have been individual games with defining overall significance. Some have been specific plays within those games. And some of those moments have occurred away from any one game.

Pivotal games rate edges over individual performances. Fair or not, games since Thanksgiving Day 1934, the date of the first Bears game broadcast nationally, on NBC radio, and since the NFL crashed into national consciousness in 1958 with “The Greatest Game Ever Played” get a touch more weight simply because the Bears have been seen and heard more with the growth of football on the air. Put simply, games that are seen or heard are going to be arguably more memorable than ones only read about in the newspapers of the time.

50. 1994 playoff win @ Minnesota
Dave Wannstedt’s 2nd year as Bears head coach saw the team make the playoffs as a wild card team, coming out of an incredibly competitive NFC Central division where 4 teams finished 9-7 or better. That earned them a New Year’s Day 1995 matchup with the division champion Minnesota Vikings in a rematch of a tough 33-27 OT loss at the Metrodome exactly one month prior. This game went much better; Lewis Tillman and Raymont Harris both rushed for scores, and Steve Walsh threw for 221 yards and two touchdowns. The defense came up big late as well -Warren Moon’s second touchdown pass of the game came late in the fourth, making the score 28-18 Bears. That’s when cornerback Kevin Miniefield returned an Amp Lee fumble 48 yards for a touchdown, putting an exclamation point on the franchise’s second and final playoff win of the 1990s. It also remains their only playoff win to date against their longtime division rivals.

49. 1984 Redskins playoff upset
This game was Mike Ditka’s first playoff win as Bears coach, and incredibly, it was the franchise’s first playoff win since capturing the 1963 NFL Championship. The upstart Bears drew the two-time reigning NFC Champion Redskins in the Divisional round, and even though Chicago boasted the league’s top defensive unit, they were without starting QB Jim McMahon, who was sidelined weeks earlier with a lacerated kidney. Not many picked Chicago to beat a seasoned Washington team led by Joe Theismann -- on the road, no less -- but the Bears pulled it off. Key moments included a trick play TD pass from Walter Payton to tight end Pat Dunsmore, and a 75-yard catch-and-run touchdown pass from QB Steve Fuller to speedster Willie Gault. Even though the Bears were shut out by the 49ers in the following week’s conference title game, the seeds of 1985’s dominance were planted in this playoff upset in late December 1984.

48. Dave Williams’ walk-off TD (Nov. 27, 1980)
The forgettable 1980 season ended with a 7-9 record, but a Thanksgiving game in Detroit provided one of the most electric finishes in franchise history. Entering the OT tied at 17, the Bears received the opening kickoff, which Dave Williams promptly returned 95 yards to the house, ending the game in walk-off fashion. It’s one of two games in league history to end on a kick return TD, and the 23-17 win kept the Lions out of the playoffs, as they finished 9-7 and lost out on a tiebreaker to the Vikings.

47. Joniak’s “Devin Hester, you are ridiculous!”  call during 2-TD game vs Rams
We’ve already discussed Hester a couple times on this countdown, but his performance on Monday Night Football against the Rams on December 11, 2006, was one of his finest ever. In the Edward Jones Dome that night, Hester returned two kick-offs for touchdowns, covering 94 and 96 yards, respectively. Those were his 5th and 6th kick return touchdowns (2 punts, 2 kick-offs, 1 missed field goal) of the season, setting an NFL record. Hester’s heroics astounded all in attendance, including the team’s radio play-by-play announcer Jeff Joniak, who coined the now-famous phrase, “Devin Hester, you are ridiculous!” in reaction to the rookie’s continued dominance. As if that wasn’t enough, Hester also played cornerback in a pinch, filling in for an injured Nathan Vasher, his all-around play helping propel the Bears to a big 42-27 win in prime time.

46. Rookie “Peanut” Tillman robs Randy Moss of TD
Charles Tillman will forever be remembered as one of the greatest defensive backs in team history, and this moment in his rookie season announced him as a force to be reckoned with on the defensive side of the ball. The Bears were clinging to a three-point lead with just over a minute left on December 14, 2003 at Soldier Field against the Vikings. Peanut was matched up against lethal wideout Randy Moss, whose end zone prowess was well-known around the league. Vikings QB Daunte Culpepper lofted a pass toward Moss in the right corner of the end zone; both men went for the jump ball, but Tillman - who’s listed as two inches shorter than Moss - simply beat the superstar wideout by ripping the ball away for a game-saving interception. The Bears won, 13-10, and Tillman’s career as a takeaway machine was off and running.

45. Urlacher hands Halas Trophy to Virginia, George’s daughter
A beautiful moment to cap a victorious night at Soldier Field in January 2007. After the Bears dominated the New Orleans Saints to capture the 2006 NFC Championship, the George Halas Trophy was presented to Brian Urlacher amidst tons of confetti and swirling snow as the Bears faithful roared in approval. The future Hall of Famer then passed off the trophy to Virginia McCaskey, the daughter of the NFC champion trophy’s namesake. The Bears had not captured the trophy since the championship 1985 season, but finally did so once again 21 years later, bringing the Halas trophy home to Chicago and into the possession of the team’s beloved matriarch.

44.  McMahon moons helicopter/McMahon wears “Rozelle” headband
Jim McMahon (or the “Punky QB,” as he was dubbed early in his Bears career) always had a penchant for the theatrical, never more apparent than in two instances less than 14 days apart. McMahon was fined $5,000 by the league for wearing an Adidas headband during a game. As a sign of protest, the QB wore a new headband in the NFC championship game against the Rams, this one with the name “ROZELLE” scrawled across it, a direct reference and dare to NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle. In that same game, McMahon suffered a bad bruise on his backside, and was feeling the effects during the two-week lead-up to Super Bowl 20 in New Orleans. When he finally practiced for the first time only to see a helicopter hovering overhead trying to ascertain his status, McMahon promptly dropped trou and showed the public exactly how his bruised buttock was feeling. Of course, the QB started and won the Super Bowl a few days later, but McMahon’s irreverent streak was on full display in the weeks preceding the Bears’ biggest triumph.

43. Ed O’Bradovich’s INT for winning ’63 score
A hugely important play that led to the franchise’s first title since 1946, and its last until Super Bowl 20. With the Bears down 10-7 in the third quarter, the Giants were driving to extend their lead. New York QB Y.A. Tittle tried a screen pass, but defensive end Ed O’Bradovich smelled out the play, and intercepted the pass after drifting into the flat. The pick occurred deep in Giants territory, and the Bears capitalized shortly thereafter with QB sneak touchdown by Billy Wade. That score proved to be the game-winner, with the Bears capturing the league title after a 14-10 victory, due in large part to O’Bradovich’s critical takeaway.

42.   Mike Ditka & Buddy Ryan get carried off after SB 20 win
Two iconic coaches, two indelible images. Just as Mike Ditka and Buddy Ryan are inextricably linked in Bears lore, so too are these moments, sharing #42 on our countdown. It’s well-known that neither man particularly liked the other, and their irascible personalities did not mesh. However, their combined coaching influence was instrumental to the success of the vaunted 1985 Super Bowl 20 champions, and each man was carried off the Superdome field on the shoulders of the men they coached. That had not happened before in Super Bowl history, and it has not happened since - just another unique chapter in the legend of the ‘85 Bears.

41.  “The Fridge” scores Super Bowl TD
Speaking of iconic… William Perry’s short touchdown run against the Patriots in Super Bowl 20 is one of the most famous plays in league history, let alone Bears lore. The defensive lineman had two touchdown runs in the 1985 regular season, but his massive spike after a 1-yard rumble into the end zone on January 26, 1986, is easily his most memorable moment in a career full of them. It was only fitting that the larger-than-life “Fridge” put an exclamation point on the Bears’ blowout win; however, it must be noted that this score was perhaps the perfect opportunity to get Walter Payton a Super Bowl touchdown. The legendary running back’s failure to score was one of the few negatives in a game that otherwise went perfectly for Chicago.

Tune in next week as the countdown continues with moments #40-31! If you’ve missed any of our previous installments, you can catch up right here:

100-91  90-81  80-71  70-61 60-51

The Bears' run game hasn't been good. Yet in a weird way, it's also why they win

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USA Today

The Bears' run game hasn't been good. Yet in a weird way, it's also why they win

Is the Bears’ run game working? 

It’s a simple (fine, lazy) question that, however binary, continues to have a complicated answer. It quickly became pretty clear that the David Montgomery-Tarik Cohen combination would be a work in progress, and on the surface, neither have particularly impressive stats thus far. The team ranks 29th in rushing DVOA and only the Dolphins (3-10) and the Jets (5-8) have a lower average yards per carry than the Bears (3.5). 

But check this out: The Bears are 7-2 when they rush the ball 20+ times. They’re winless (0-4) when they run it any less.

“For our offense, I just appreciate the way that our guys have continued to just fight through this year and try to figure out where we're at,” Matt Nagy said on Monday. “I do feel a lot better with where we're at right now as an offense. That part, that's good, and that's a credit to our guys.” 

The obvious talking point when it comes to the Bears’ running woes has been Tarik Cohen’s decline in production. As a rusher, he’s on pace to set career worsts in yards per attempt (3.1), yards per game (12.1), and attempts per game (3.2). The analytics are brutal too: according to Pro Football Focus, his Yards After Contact per Attempt (YCO/A) is under 2.0 for the first time in his career; Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric says he’s 18% less effective, per play, than the average NFL running back. 

Before the Bears’ Week 12 game against the Giants, Nagy talked at the podium about wanting to get Cohen more touches. “Trust me,” he said. “Just like everybody, we want to do everything we can to get 29 going. He’s a playmaker and every time he’s on the field, even if he doesn’t touch the football, the defense has to know where he’s at.”

That Sunday Cohen would have 9 targets and six rushes. Since then? 10 targets and six rushes. 

“Teams are doing a good job game planning for him,” running backs coach Charles London said. “I don’t know if you guys have noticed, but every time he’s out on a route, there’s a lineman trying to hit him. He’s usually double-teamed. They’re usually trying to stay on top of him so he can’t go deep. Teams have done good jobs scheming him, but we’ve just got to continue finding ways to give him the ball.” 

Cohen was never meant to be the feature back, and his struggles to regain that explosive form is felt far more in the pass game than it is on the ground. He’s having a weird year as a pass-catcher: he’s on pace to set a career high in receptions per game (4.6), but his yards per game (25.4) is barely half of what it was last season, as is his yards per reception (5.5). As well as any stat can, this one says it all: Cohen had a 70-yard play in each of his first two seasons. This year his longest play, so far, has gone for 31. 

“It’s just about moving the chains,” London added. “It may be a three or four yard route, but maybe it’s third-and-three and we move it and get another set of downs. I think that’s the biggest thing – obviously we’d like some more explosive plays there, and we’ve got to do a better job as coaches of getting him those touches. But as long as we’re moving the chains, we’re good with it.” 

There’s also no denying that Cohen’s usage coincides with David Montgomery, who’s on pace to get more carries in his first season (roughly 265 by back-of-napkin-math) than the Bears gave Jordan Howard in 2018. Montgomery’s season started slowly, but the rookie had his breakout game (27 rushes, 135 yards and a touchdown) against the Chargers in Week 8, and most recently has strung together back-to-back games averaging over 4.0 yards per rush for the first time in his career. 

“I think it’s just him seeing the holes,” London said. “I think he’s done a good job, especially the last 2-3 weeks, of just seeing how the line is blocking and getting a feel for how the game’s going, getting a feel for how the run’s being blocked. I think he’s done a really good job of it the last few weeks.” 

Running the ball isn't what Nagy was hired to do – or wants to do – but it’s hard to say the ground game isn’t working when the Bears are a far better team when they commit to it. 

“I think that just right now, what the feel is with our offense is that it's not just the running back, it's not just the quarterback, it's not just the O-line,” Nagy added on Monday. “Everybody is just kind of syncing right now.” 

Bears' Anthony Miller earning Mitch Trubisky’s trust at the right time

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USA Today

Bears' Anthony Miller earning Mitch Trubisky’s trust at the right time

With Mitch Trubisky playing tentatively at times this season, the automatic assumption was that the problem was entirely with the Bears quarterback.

That’s not entirely true.

“Don’t surprise your quarterback” is a wide-receiver commandment, and the fact is that Trubisky was hampered early this season by his receivers’ poor routes, drops or both all too often. That led to sacks, incompletions and interceptions.

Anthony Miller, for instance, was called out for running an improper route against the Rams in Week 10 that resulted in an interception. That was, however, the moment when a light appeared to go on for the second-year receiver. His subsequent increase in targets indicates that Trubisky is trusting him more. Miller was targeted 30 times over the season’s first nine games, 37 times over the past four. In the Bears’ win over Detroit on Thanksgiving, Miller was targeted a season-high 13 times. He caught nine of those throws for 140 yards.

“I think with every receiver, the timing and the trust comes with experience,” head coach Matt Nagy said going into the Dallas game. “There's a little bit of trust that gets earned over time. So the more plays you have with that guy, the more trust you'll get in particular routes.”

Miller’s emergence over the past month has offset Taylor Gabriel’s diminished presence due to concussion issues. Plus, the early success of newfound tight ends J.P. Holtz and Jesper Horsted has given Nagy more play-calling options.

And all the Bears’ pass catchers are doing a better job of, well, catching passes. Every one of the team’s nine main pass receivers has a catch percentage 60 percent or higher. Last year Trubisky’s targets included Josh Bellamy (56 percent), and star receiver Allen Robinson was sub-60 (58.5 percent).

“Going back to last year, it was our first year in this offense,” Nagy said. “All these routes and the different coverages you get take time. So, yeah, there's a little bit of trust that gets earned over time. It's starting to develop more and more with more receivers on our team.”

None more than with Anthony Miller.

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