The Bears have had a first round playoff bye three times in the last ten years and all they have to show for it is a 1-2 record. I think that’s partially the motivation for going full blast against the Packers in Week 17. Let’s look back at the three Bears teams that had playoff byes and see if we can learn from their mistakes to make sure they bring a championship back to Chicago.
The 13-3 Bears, probably the luckiest team this side of Lovie Smith, bear a striking resemblance to the 2010 Bears. With their coach Dick Jauron on the hot seat and expected to be fired so new GM Jerry Angelo could bring in one of his guys, the Bears surprised the football world en route to a 13-3 record. The height of their “luck” came on back-to-back Mike Brown walk-off game-winning overtime interception returns for touchdowns.
The 11-5 Philadelphia Eagles, hot off a Wild Card victory against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers came to Chicago for what would turn out to be the last game at the “old” Soldier Field. Jim Miller got knocked out of the game on a questionable hit by Hugh Douglas and the Bears luck ran out.
The Bears overcame a 1-3 start to go 11-5 and capture their first division crown under Lovie Smith in his second season as head coach. In Kyle Orton’s rookie season, he had to step in for an injured Rex Grossman to lead the Bears offense, but make no mistake, this team was all about the defense. The offense ranked 29th while the defense finished the season ranked 2nd. Let’s see what my friends over at ChicagoBearsHistory had to say about the playoff game:
Chicago watched the opening week of the playoffs, comfortable in the fact that since 1990, only two teams with a first-round bye had lost their first playoff game. Unfortunately, belying this statistic was the fact that one of those losses was by the Bears themselves in 2001. Even worse, the only other time this happened is when the Carolina Panthers beat Lovie Smith’s St. Louis Rams at home in 2003. Ironically, following Carolina’s shutout win at New York over the Giants, their next task was to come to Chicago to play the Bears.
The Bears had so soundly defeated Carolina at Soldier Field in November, players exuded an air of confidence for their first playoff game in their new stadium. “They might think they can beat us, but we know we can beat them,” was a comment from one Bear defender. Lost in the jubilance surrounding the previous win over Carolina was the fact that speedy receiver Steve Smith had caught passes for over 150 yards against the vaunted Bears defense. Chicago’s coaching staff had to know that they would need to contain Smith again to win the game.
Before a rousing crowd on January 15th, the Bear offense came out as many predicted, throwing the ball. They didn’t complete a pass on their first series, however, and on Carolina’s first offensive play Smith streaked for a touchdown. The Bears never led in the game, and became the third team in the history of the bye to exit the playoffs without making a stir.
This magical Super Bowl season just seemed like a season of destiny. How else could you explain the miracle in the desert, where the Bears came back from largest deficit ever without scoring an offensive touchdown, prompting Dennis Green to “crown em.”
The Bears entered the playoffs as the #1 seed in the NFC and fully expected to go to the Super Bowl. And while they were able to win their Divisional Round game – against the Seahawks oddly enough – barely edging it out in overtime.
This season, the Bears made the biggest strides and flipped the switch after the Bye week, so here’s hoping that they’ve figured out this Bye thing.