Bears

Top Bears Moments: 60-51

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

Top Bears Moments: 60-51

The Chicago Bears, one of the two remaining charter franchises of the National Football League, have put together an impressive century – nine NFL championships and a league-most 28 players inducted into the NFL’s Hall of Fame. Within that history have been signature moments spanning every era.

NBC Sports Chicago has identified the 100 greatest Bears moments, the “Hallowed Hundred” that 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.

60.  Tillman’s walk-off pick-6 & Jeff Joniak’s “Fade to Black”

On October 30, 2005, Charles Tillman ended a divisional matchup in Detroit in style, picking off Jeff Garcia and sprinting 22 yards to end the game in overtime. The Bears won 19-13 in typical bruising NFC North fashion, but the Peanut walk-off pick-6 is linked to another facet of recent Bears lore. The play prompted WBBM play-by-play man Jeff Joniak to debut his victory catchphrase, “Fade to black!”, which is now uttered after the final play of every Bears victory over the radio airwaves.

59.  Richard Dent’s two 4.5-sack games

Any time you enter the defensive record books of a franchise with such a rich history, it’s a big deal. Hall of Fame defensive end Richard Dent is all over said book. He owns the most career sacks in franchise history with 124.5, and the most sacks in a season with 17.5 in 1984. Another record he holds? Most sacks in a game, with 4.5 -- a feat he accomplished twice! The first time was on November 4, 1984, in a 17-6 win over the Los Angeles Raiders, when Dent accounted for half of the 9 total sacks posted by the Bears’ defense. He reached the mark again on December 27, 1987, ironically against the Raiders as well. In another eerie similarity, Dent once again had half of 9 total Bears sacks, leading the way in a 6-3 win.

58. Wilber Marshall lays out Joe Ferguson

If you want to watch one play that captures the ferocity and edge of the mythical ‘85 Bears defense, this might be the one. The Bears wrapped up their 15-1 regular season with a win in Detroit, and during that game, linebacker Wilber Marshall laid one of the most vicious hits in NFL history on Lions quarterback Joe Ferguson. Early in the game, Ferguson rolled out to avoid William Perry, and just after releasing a pass that eventually fell incomplete, Marshall drilled with his helmet right in his chin, knocking the quarterback airborne. When he landed, he was unconscious, thudding to the ground like a sack of bricks.  Ferguson eventually regained consciousness, but hit, which would now likely result in an ejection in today’s NFL, lives on as a testament to the 46 defense, and set the tone for an epic playoff run that ended in triumph in Super Bowl XX.

57. Drafting Mitch Trubisky

The bold move to trade up and draft Trubisky in 2017 will forever be a watershed moment in franchise history. GM Ryan Pace, convinced he had a franchise QB in his sights, traded significant draft capital to move up one slot in the 1st round to select Trubisky out of North Carolina. After a nondescript rookie season under John Fox, Trubisky helped lead the Bears to a division title in 2018 under Matt Nagy before nearly bringing the Bears back from the dead in the divisional round against Philadelphia. The end to this story has yet to be written, and Trubisky’s 3rd season has taken a detour thanks to a left shoulder injury suffered against the Vikings. But the decision to move up and take Trubisky will reverberate through Halas Hall for years to come, for better or worse. 

56. Gould’s ‘06 playoff game-winner vs Seahawks

56a.Grossman 3rd & 10 pass to Rashied Davis

Fresh off a 13-3 regular season and a divisional title, the 2006 Bears found themselves in a dogfight against Seattle in the divisional round of the playoffs. The 9-7 Seahawks were more than up to the challenge at Soldier Field, and the game headed to overtime tied at 24. Facing a 3rd and 10 at his own 34, QB Rex Grossman found receiver Rashied Davis for a clutch 30-yard completion, not only converting the 3rd down but putting the Bears well into Robbie Gould’s field goal range. 4 plays later, Gould came up clutch as he so often did, booting a 49-yard walk-off field goal to send the Bears to the NFC Championship game for the first time since 1988.

55. Briggs stops Shaun Alexander in ‘06 playoffs

However, another play from that Seahawks playoff win looms as slightly more important. If not for Lance Briggs’ heroics late in the 4th, Robbie Gould may never have gotten a chance to win the game in overtime. With the game tied at 24 late in the 4th, the Seahawks were in Bears territory approaching the 2-minute warning. Facing a 4th and 1 at the Bears’ 44-yard line, Seattle handed the ball to their Pro Bowl running back, Shaun Alexander. Alexander rushed for over 1,000 yards in every season from 2001-2005 and rushed for 896 yards in only 10 games in 2006 thanks to a foot injury. Point being, he was one of the surest bets in the league to pick up a single yard with the game on the line. Briggs had other ideas, stuffing Alexander at the line of scrimmage and forcing a turnover on downs. If Alexander gets the yard, who knows what happens? Briggs gave the Bears a reprieve, and the rest is history.

54.  Urlacher gets inducted into Hall of Fame

Fitting that #54 gets recognized in moment #54. This was the capstone to a legendary career. Urlacher was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in February 2018 and was enshrined during induction ceremonies in August of the same year. His bust will stand in Canton forever, a testament to a Bears career that is nearly without peer.

53. Vasher’s 108-yd FG return in ‘05

Nathan Vasher was a fine cornerback for the Bears over 6 seasons, but he’s best-known for a special teams play for the ages. November 13, 2005 was an incredibly windy day at Soldier Field, wreaking havoc with the kicking game all afternoon long. At the end of the 1st half, the 49ers attempted a 52-yard field goal, which was no good. Vasher caught the ball on the fly in the back of the end zone and weaved his way 108 yards for an electrifying and unlikely touchdown. The long TD gave the Bears a lead they never relinquished, as they beat San Francisco 17-9. It was the longest scoring play in NFL history at the time, although it has since been passed by 109-yard returns by both Antonio Cromartie (missed FG in 2007) and Cordarrelle Patterson (kickoff return in 2013).

52. Devin Hester breaks NFL record for return TDs vs Vikings (2010)

Devin Hester will make several more appearances on this list, rest assured. But we must recognize his record-setting return in December 2010 against the Vikings. In a rare outdoor Minnesota game at TCF Bank Stadium, Hester returned a 3rd-quarter punt 64 yards for a touchdown, setting an NFL record with his 14th career return (punt & kickoff) touchdown. #23 broke Brian Mitchell’s record of 13 return touchdowns, but Hester did it in 73 games, while it took Mitchell 223 games to set the prior mark. Hester finished his career with 19 punt & kickoff return touchdowns, and with the league’s changes to kickoffs in the years since he played, it’s very possible that mark may never be broken.

51. The Jay Cutler trade

April 2, 2009 will be a day-long remembered in Chicago sports history as the day the Bears finally traded for their franchise QB. After sending Kyle Orton and 2 first-round picks to Denver for Jay Cutler, Bears GM Jerry Angelo figured he was set under center for at least a decade. In a way, he was right - the next 8 years of Bears football was centered around Jay, for better or worse. In the end, Cutler certainly had his moments (he is the Bears’ all-time leading passer, after all) and did bring a measure of stability to the position, but his time with the Bears ultimately produced a 51-51 regular-season record and a single playoff win. While the trade did not result in a Lombardi trophy as Angelo envisioned 10 years ago, the bold move for Cutler still rates as a massively important event in franchise history.

Thus ends the first half of our countdown – if you missed any previous installments, they are all linked below. Check back next week for moments 50-41!

100-91    90-81    80-71    70-61

 

The Bears love their defensive depth. Now their playoff chances – and offseason plans – rely on it

The Bears love their defensive depth. Now their playoff chances – and offseason plans – rely on it

As it turns out, the Bears’ inside linebacker situation is a great litmus test for how you feel about the team in general. Roquan Smith is done for the year, and it doesn’t feel like Danny Trevathan is ready to return yet. The Bears will likely have to win out with Nick Kwiatkoski and Kevin Pierre-Louis, and while that was certainly never the plan, it also may not be the disaster that many think. 

“It’s unfortunate with some of the injuries that we’ve had this year,” Matt Nagy said on Monday. “But it’s a part of the game. It’s a physical game. I just like the fact that our coaches are preparing our depth guys to come in. It’s no slight on the other guys — the depth of guys that are coming in and playing, we like that.”

The Bears coaches, particularly on defense, have raved all year about the depth across all three levels. How Kwiatkoski and KPL – both UFA’s after the season – play is quietly one of the more important storylines in a final three weeks that’s already not lacking for narrative substance.

“I think they both can do the jobs,” inside linebackers coach Mark Deleone said. “There’s a perception about Kwit that I think, this year, he’s shown that he has coverage skills, and he’s done really well this year when we’ve put him in those situations. I feel comfortable with both of them – they play different positions, but they do a lot of the same jobs. I don’t feel like we’re changing the way those two guys play, based off who’s in the game.”

The good news is that so far, things look good. Though he’s only appeared in seven games, Nick Kwiatkoski’s overall grade (79.8), per Pro Football Focus, is already the fourth-highest on the defense. 

“I think he’s productive,” Deleone said. “Every single game he’s played serious minutes in, he’s made a lot of plays. And that’s something that, and I really believe this, that good linebackers make tackles. And he’s made a lot when he’s played.”

The only players with higher scores? Sherrick McManis (!), Khalil Mack, and … Kevin Pierre-Louis. After logging the second-most snaps (46) of his 68-game career, KPL was PFF’s highest-graded player on the Bears’ defense. 

“It’s not college anymore, where certain players supposedly have to do everything,” he said on Monday. “We have the right pieces, so I just have to make sure I do my job, and the rest of the team is going to have my back.” 

Deleone said that if Kwiatkoski and KPL are in fact the starters in Green Bay this Sunday, Kwiatkoski will wear the green dot. Even still, facing Aaron Rodgers and a Packers’ run game that ranks fourth in DVOA is a lot to ask, and possibly (probably?) getting Akiem Hicks back will be critical to helping both ILBs. The team’s still working to gauge where Hicks is physically, and for the first time since suffering the injury, he’ll be going against blocks in practice.

“I’ve always thought that Akiem has been an integral part of this defense,” defensive line coach Jay Rodgers said. “When he’s on the field, he obviously has more impact than when he’s off the field. But his impact off the field has been great so far.” 

Getting Hicks back in time for the Packers game may be especially good news for Leonard Floyd, who, for whatever reason, has a fun tendency of putting together huge games against Green Bay. Floyd is well on his way to another divisive and all-around confusing season: sack loyalists see a bad player, the analytics see a productive player, and the Bears see a great one.

“I think there are a lot of DBs that would love to have some of his traits,” outside linebackers coach Ted Monachino said. “I think there’s a lot of defensive linemen that would love to have some of those traits, and they just don’t. He’s got that package, and if we can get him to finish those rushes and drive those sack numbers up, I think that we’d all be talking about him differently.”

The ifs are doing a lot of heavy lifting in that quote, and eventually the Bears are going to have to decide if they want to pay top dollar for a player whose best contributions can only be described because they ‘don’t show up on tape.’ For what it’s worth, Monachino also said that he can’t think of too many players that he’s asked more from than Floyd, and that every week the edge rusher is in the conversation for “who does [their] job best on our defense.”

Especially with Kevin Tolliver filling in for Prince Amukamara, the Bears’ defense looks as unfamiliar as it has during the Khalil Mack era, and at the worst time. They’ve always been proud of their depth, and now their playoff odds – not to mention offseason budgetary plans – directly rely on it. With all that in mind, you can understand why Matt Nagy’s still looking for this season’s silver lining.

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

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.”