As many Chicago fans are thankful for a resurgent 2018 Bears offense this Thanksgiving, there was a Thanksgiving where that wasn’t the case. The development of the 2018 Bears mirrors that of the 2004 team as they both had a first-year head coach, a second-year franchise quarterback, and a quarterbacks coach from Kansas City expected to build an explosive offense.
The 2004 season was historic for all the wrong reasons and it was on display nationally on Thanksgiving in 2004 against the Dallas Cowboys.
In 2004, Lovie Smith was hired as the Bears head coach to bring the team back to dominance. His two goals for the team was to restore a once-proud defense and to develop quarterback Rex Grossman who was the team’s first-round pick in 2003. Smith hired Chiefs quarterbacks coach Terry O’Shea as his offensive coordinator to build a high power offense. O’Shea was a key part of a Chiefs offense which was one of the best in the NFL in 2003.
Hopes for Grossman were ended early in the season after he tore his ACL in week three against the Minnesota Vikings. The injury would open up one of the worst moments in Bears quarterbacks history as Jonathan Quinn, Craig Krenzel, and Chad Hutchinson all started at one point the rest of season. The three combined for eight passing touchdowns and 12 interceptions as each one struggled heavily with accuracy during their appearances. Added to the quarterback struggles, was a highly injured offensive line, and an inexperienced wide receiving corp that was learning a highly complex offensive playbook.
Against the Cowboys, both Krenzel and Quinn had one of the more dubious quarterback performances on Thanksgiving. Krenzel started for the Bears and was sacked twice before being knocked out of the game in the second quarter with a heel injury. He finished with just five completions 46 yards, and a lost fumble. Quinn came on and was no better finishing 10-22 with two interceptions and four sacks. Both were highly immobile as they were unable to move around in the pocket and were slow to release the ball.
Although not impressive, Krenzel was at least a more viable option as he completed a few passes that helped the Bears flip the field for their defense keeping them in the game. Quinn was extremely bad as he was highly inaccurate and ineffective.
The inaccuracy was highlighted on a second and 35 with less than 30 seconds to go before halftime with the Bears on offense. O’shea called a screen pass for running back Thomas Jones, it was the perfect call as Jones and three linemen had no defender near them within 10 yards. Quinn proceeded to loft a pass that sailed over Jones, the lineman, and into the hands of linebacker 10 yards away who dropped it due to being surprised the ball had reached him.
Even with all the struggles, the Bears went into halftime tied at seven with the Cowboys. Fox’s signature announcing team of Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, and Chris Collinsworth were highly critical and humorous about both teams struggles on offense throughout the game. The Fox’s studio analysis appeared more critical as Howie Long, Terry Bradshaw, and Hall of Fame coach Jimmy Johnson were all extremely vocal of the poor quarterback play at halftime. Johnson suggested running the ball the entire second half just not to turn the ball over and rely on the defense or special teams score to win the game.
Dallas’ quarterback situation was no better as they started Drew Henson who would make his only start of his career as he was benched at halftime for being extremely ineffective. Vinny Testaverde was put in by coach Bill Parcells who realized that one score would win it. He was right as Testaverde led the Cowboys on two touchdown drives in the fourth quarter leading to a 21-7 win. Quinn, on the other hand, turned the ball over twice in the second half as he threw into double coverage for one interception in which his receiver was never visibly open.
The game was a lowlight for quarterback play given what the nation had seen earlier in the day as future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning threw for six touchdowns in a 41-9 win over the Detroit Lions. Fast forward to 2018, where Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky currently has 19 passing touchdowns under first-year head coach Matt Nagy.
Like 2004, the 2018 Bears team will play on Thanksgiving, except they will play the Detroit Lions in the traditional early game. Unlike O’Shea, Nagy has proven to be a success so far as an offensive mind as his team has averaged 32 points in their last six games. Any offense against the Lions will suffice for Bears fans when they remember where the team was just 14 years earlier.