The 2006 Chicago Bears were looking to bounce back from a 2005 season that saw them make the playoffs. They won their division and even clinched a first-round bye week. Unfortunately for the Bears, they were ousted by the Carolina Panthers in the divisional round 29-21. Despite the disappointing finish in the playoffs, it was a very good year for them, especially on the defensive side of the ball. The defense sent five players to the Pro Bowl. Defensive tackle Tommie Harris, linebackers Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher, cornerback Nathan Vasher and safety Mike Brown all represented Chicago in the Pro Bowl. The Bears had high expectations in 2006. They were hungry and motivated to not only return to the playoffs but try to win another Lombardi trophy. Boy did they deliver on those expectations. Let’s reminisce on the 2006 Chicago Bears season.
2006 Chicago Bears
2006 NFL Draft
Normally, I would get right into it, and talk about the regular season. However, you can’t ignore what the Bears did in the 2006 NFL Draft. First, the Bears selected Devin Hester from the University of Miami. Hester made a huge impact in his rookie season, returning six kicks and punts for touchdowns, including one in the Super Bowl (Don’t worry, we’ll get to that one).
The Bears then selected safety Danieal Manning from Abilene Christian. While he didn’t have the impact that Hester did, Manning was a day one starter at safety for the Bears. However, he did most of his damage as a kick returner. He even led the league in return average in 2009. Chicago probably didn’t think they were going to get the production they did out of those two.
Chicago also got great contributions from their fifth-round pick, Mark Anderson, out of Alabama. He had a great rookie season, setting the Bears rookie record for sacks with 12. That performance led Anderson to be selected to the PFWA All-Rookie team. Sadly, Anderson couldn’t keep the production up and was out of the NFL by 2012.
2006 Regular Season
Hot Start Against Divisional Opponents
The Chicago Bears started off extremely hot in 2006. In the opener at Lambeau Field, they dominated the Green Bay Packers, shutting them out 26-0. In week two, the Bears had their home opener against the Detroit Lions, where the defense dominated again. They held the Lions to just seven points, while the offense continued to click on all cylinders. The Bears struggled in a week three matchup against the Minnesota Vikings but were able to squeak out a 19-16 victory, giving them a 3-0 start. The Bears next two games were absolute clinics against the Seattle Seahawks and Buffalo Bills. They won by a combined score of 77-13. This pushed the Bears to a 5-0 record, as they looked poised to make a deep run in the playoffs.
The Scare Against the Arizona Cardinals
The Bears had a week six Monday night showdown against the struggling Arizona Cardinals. Arizona though, despite their poor record, got off to a hot start in this contest. They shut the Bears out in the first half and put up 20 points on one of the best defenses in the league. Chicago finally got on the board in the third with a Robbie Gould field goal and a Brown fumble recovery after an Anderson sack. Unfortunately, the Bears were still down 13, and time was running out.
With about five minutes left in the game, Arizona quarterback Matt Leinart handed the ball off to fumble prone running back Edgerrin James. He was stripped by Urlacher. Charles Tillman recovered it and took it to the house for six to cut the Cardinals lead to just six. Arizona continued to try and run the clock out, but the Bears defense was able to force a punt. They punted to Hester, and boy did they regret that decision. He took the punt 83 yards for a touchdown, tying the game. Gould kicked the go-ahead extra point and gave the Bears a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
Bears Finally Lose
Chicago had a bye week after the thrilling Cardinals game. After the BYE, they took on the San Francisco 49ers and handled them with ease. The Bears suffered their first loss of the season in week nine, losing to the Miami Dolphins 31-13. They followed up the loss with two straight wins against both New York teams. The game against the New York Giants was most known for the Hester missed field goal return, in which he took a missed field goal attempt 108 yards for a touchdown. At the time, it was tied for the longest return in NFL history. In week 12, the Bears suffered another loss, this time against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
Chicago Dominates in Home Stretch
After the tough loss to the Patriots, the Bears rattled off four straight, wins, which pushed their record to 13-2. The first of those was against division rival Minnesota. With that win, the Bears clinched their second consecutive NFC North crown. In their week 15 win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, they clinched the top record in the NFC North, and home field throughout the playoffs. The Bears ended their season with a loss against the Packers, but that didn’t mean anything due to them already clinching the top seed. Chicago was ready to make some noise in the playoffs. They were hungry and ready for retribution.
In the opener, they took on the Seahawks, who they dominated in their regular season contest. It was a much closer affair this time. Seattle was up by three points heading into the fourth quarter. Gould eventually tied the game up with a field goal, which is where the game stood at the end of regulation. Gould again came through in the clutch, hitting the game-winning field goal in overtime, sending the Bears to the NFC championship and a date with the New Orleans Saints.
The Saints and Bears played to a tight contest through three quarters, with the Bears slightly edging New Orleans by four points. However, the Bears dominated the fourth, scoring three touchdowns, and giving the Bears their first Super Bowl appearance since 1985. Lovie Smith also made history, becoming the first African-American head coach to reach the Super Bowl. It’s safe to say that everything was clicking for Chicago. They were one win away from ending their historic season with a Lombardi trophy.
2006 Super Bowl
In the Super Bowl, the Bears would be taking on the Indianapolis Colts, who were led by Peyton Manning. There were intriguing storylines to this contest. We had a matchup between teacher and student, Tony Dungy being the teacher, and Smith being the student. In addition, we had the Bears stingy defense facing off against the Colts high powered passing attack. Something had to give in this matchup.
The game started off with the Colts winning the toss and electing to kick. Bad decision. Hester took the opening kick off 88 yards for a touchdown, giving the Bears an early 7-0 lead. The Bears scored again in the first, after Rex Grossman threw a touchdown pass to Mushin Muhammad, giving the Bears a 14-0 lead. Unfortunately for the Bears, that was basically all they did for the rest of the game. The Colts proceeded to outmatch the Bears on both ends, putting together quality drives against the Bears defense, as well as getting stops and creating turnovers on offense. The Bears lost by a final score of 29-17.
Reflecting on 2006
The 2006 Chicago Bears were a great team but ultimately came up short in the biggest game of their season. Their defense and special teams were outstanding and sent multiple guys to the pro bowl. However, their offense severely lacked, specifically in the passing game. Rex Grossman played decently, but turned the ball over too much, costing the Bears when it counted the most. It would’ve been fun to see guys like Urlacher, Briggs, and Tillman win a ring in Chicago, especially because of the impact they had on the Windy City.
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