The return to prominence for the Chicago Bears in 2018 has been a special one for the city. The unexpected success is similar to what the city and the fanbase experienced 17 years ago in 2001.
The 2001 Bears won the NFC Central with a 13-3 record following five consecutive losing seasons. Their season came to an abrupt end following an upset loss in the Divisional Round against the Philadelphia Eagles 33-19.
That loss dampened all that had been achieved that season and should serve as a reminder to this year’s Bears team.
In the 2001 playoff game, the Bears were viewed as the favorites to win the game because of their style of play being able to control a game. The defense and offense complimented one another, the defense would stop the opposing offense down while the Bears offense would control the clock and protect the ball.
Anytime the Bears scored more than 13 points in a game that season they would win.
Chicago’s defense was predicated on stopping the run with defensive tackles Ted Washington and Keith Traylor who clogged the running lanes in between the tackles. The big duo also kept blockers of linebacker Brian Urlacher. Urlacher was able to chase down opposing running backs outside of the tackles with ease.
Although the secondary struggled to defend against the pass consistently, they were still able to force turnovers as they registered 20 interceptions on the season.
On offense, the Bears relied on rookie running back Anthony Thomas who was named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year for rushing for 1,174 yards. Quarterback Jim Miller led a ball controlled offense that relied on short passes and a power running game to slow down the game.
Miller protected the ball and was efficient as the Bears offense would score just enough for the team to be victorious.
In the playoff game, Both the defense and offense struggled to compliment one another. the Bears defense struggled against Eagles Pro-Bowl quarterback Donovan McNabb who extended plays with his mobility.
McNabb converted several third downs for the Eagles offense by avoiding sacks and finding an open target that had broken off their route from a Bears defender.
Chicago trailed for the majority of the game which did not allow the Bears offense to play the game that they wanted to play. Trailing by three on their first possession, Chicago’s offense passed on their first three plays resulting in a quick three and out. Their next drive ended with an interception in the red zone on an uncharacteristically bad pass by Miller. To make matters worse, Miller was knocked out of the game with a separated shoulder, as on the play, he was slammed to the ground by Eagles defensive end Hugh Douglas. Backup quarterback Shane Matthews came in and was ineffective as Philadelphia’s defense intercepted him twice in the second half.
Following the 33-19 loss, renovations quickly began on Soldier Field as seats were torn out mere hours following the end of the game. The loss zapped all joy and happiness out of a tremendous and unexpected season. Many questioned whether the season was a fluke or if the team was on the cusp of sustained success.
This year’s Bears team has created the same level of excitement of joy for the city which is why a loss on Sunday would be so costly. A loss in which Philadelphia dominants the majority of the game and the Bears look like the inferior team would be a first this season. Chicago has led in every game this season and has held at minimum a seven-point lead in each of their four losses. If the defense has an off game or Mitchell Trubisky turns the ball over on multiple occasions, fans will forget about all that has been accomplished this season and focus on the loss more so.
Heading into the Sunday’s game, the Bears are the better of the two teams. With a win, Chicago would travel to Los Angeles to take on the Rams next Saturday night.
The Divisional Round game, given the circumstances, could have the potential to break NFL TV viewing records. For all the special accomplishments achieved by the Bears this season, a quick playoff exit would be the worst scenario, something that still haunts the 2001 team.