Brian Urlacher’s Defining Day

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 22: Brian Urlacher
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 22: Brian Urlacher /

Brian Urlacher is who we thought he was: A Pro Football Hall of Famer. We talk about his defining game.

It was October 16, 2006. The Chicago Bears came into Monday Night Football with a swagger that evening. Sitting at 5-0, the Bears knew they had something special going on. Young quarterback Rex Grossman had thrown for 10 touchdowns in the team’s first 5 games eclipsing 250 yards in three of those contests. The defense had pitched a shutout already and had only allowed 1 of the first five opponents to even score double figures against them.

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This Chicago Bears team was to be reckoned with. So when the slumping Arizona Cardinals were next on the schedule at 1-4, this was hardly a test, even if it was on the road. The Bears were a 13-point road favorite. Chicago was going to win this game, that was obvious, the only question was by how much.

The Bears started the game with a quick three and out, but have no fear, the Bears defense was here. Young Matt Leinart wouldn’t have a chance. But suddenly, Edgerrin James had turned back the clock and Leinart showed why he was a first-round pick. The Cardinals put together a 12-play touchdown drive that put them up 7-0. Brian Urlacher had a couple of tackles on the drive, but overall, it was your pretty basic well-oiled drive for the home team Cardinals.

The Bears and Cardinals exchanged a couple more three and outs. But with 2:41 to go in the first, Grossman’s first turnover would occur. This would be the game where Bears fans would discover the type of quarterback Grossman was. The guy who looked like a big-time prospect the first five games would be gone after this game. The QB that was left was something Bears fans would rather forget. Grossman was picked off by Aaron Francisco and he returned it to the Bears 25. Three plays later, Leinart hit Anquan Boldin and it was 14-0 and we still had three quarters to play.

Grossman’s woes would only grow in the second quarter. Grossman turned the ball over three more times (2 fumbles and an interception) in that quarter alone. It’s a small miracle the Bears defense only allowed two field goals with that type of offensive performance. Urlacher tallied a couple more tackles. It was halftime and the score was Arizona Cardinals 20, Chicago Bears 0. Urlacher had a solid first half with six tackles, but nothing that popped off the page.

They say that defensive players can’t single-handedly win football games. A quarterback can. A running back can. Perhaps even a wide receiver can. But a defensive player can’t. He simply doesn’t impact the ball enough to win a game. He can play great, he can have a game-altering play. But he can’t win a game, that’s impossible.

If Dennis Green were still with us today, he would tell you that isn’t true.

The third quarter was when the tide started to turn. After the Bears and Cardinals exchanged field goals, making the score 23-3, the Bears were forced to punt the ball back to the Cardinals yet again, with 16 minutes of football left and the Bears down three touchdowns, this game seemingly was over. The offense clearly wasn’t going to score. If the Bears were going to win this game, unconventional points would have to be scored.

With the Cardinals in possession of the football, Leinart was looking to pad their lead but Mark Anderson hit him on the blindside forcing him to fumble, Mike Brown scooped up the ball and trotted into the endzone and the Bears trailed 23-10 as the fourth quarter began. This particular quarter would be the one that defined the career of Brian Urlacher.

Midway through the fourth quarter, the Bears still had failed to score. Grossman had turned the ball over yet again, but Urlacher simply wasn’t going to allow the Cardinals to score again. He had 8 tackles through three quarters, by the midway point of the fourth quarter he had talied 5 more, three of which were made behind the line of scrimmage.

By the time Grossman had thrown his fourth interception and sixth turnover of the game, there were less than six minutes to go and the Bears were still down 13 points. Sure, Urlacher had stepped up his game, he had 13 tackles, 5 of them for a loss, but there was only so much he could do.

But on Urlacher’s 14th tackle of the game, he proved there was more. The Bears defensive front first met Edgerrin James squarely at the line of scrimmage, Urlacher’s motor didn’t stall, even if he wasn’t the first one there. He worked his way down from the outside and met James in the middle of the pile, he put his giant paw of a right hand into James midsection and ripped, the ball flew out like a greased potato. Charles Tillman scooped the ball up and streaked down the sidelines for a 40-yard fumble return for a touchdown and the Bears suddenly were only down six.

Chicago Bears cornerback Devin Hester returns a kick 83 yards for a game-winning touchdown against the Arizona Cardinals Oct. 16, 2006 in Phoenix. The Bears won 24 – 23 on Monday Night Football and remained undefeated. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Chicago Bears cornerback Devin Hester returns a kick 83 yards for a game-winning touchdown against the Arizona Cardinals Oct. 16, 2006 in Phoenix. The Bears won 24 – 23 on Monday Night Football and remained undefeated. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images) /

Two minutes later, the Cardinals made the mistake of punting to Devin Hester and just 82 yards later, the Bears were leading 24-23. The Cardinals still had three minutes to play and just needed a field goal to win. Urlacher did everything he could to keep the Cardinals in check. Urlacher tallied 5 more tackles on the final drive and another pass defended. Among Urlacher’s plays included a huge hit on Anquan Boldin, keeping him down before the first down marker and forcing what would be a Neil Rackers eventual game-winning field goal to be beyond 40 yards, rather than a chip shot in the 30 to 35-yard range.

Chicago Bears
Chicago Bears /

Chicago Bears

As Rackers waited patiently to attempt the game winner, Urlacher was lined up behind the right guard. When the ball was snapped, he ducked his head down and pushed as much as he could. There was  a tremendous push up the middle, almost the entire team was in the backfield as Urlacher continued to drive them forward. Rackers started the ball to the left off his foot because of the huge push up the middle. Rackers also put tremendous action on the ball as well. As the ball hooked even further left before reaching the upright, it sailed wide. There was no stopping the Bears at this point, with just 50 seconds to go, the Bears would be victorious.

The Bears would win a game in which they were -4 (6 to 2) in the turnover margin. The Bears would win a game where they averaged just over 2 yards per rush and the offense only totaled 168 yards of offense. The Bears’ offense sputtered for just three points and Hester and the defense took care of the rest. The Bears won a game because of their defense, and only their defense, led by Brian Urlacher.

Urlacher had 19 tackles (although some stat books credit him with as many as 22). If he wasn’t making the tackle, he was blowing up plays and forcing players out of position. He had brilliant coverage in the passing game and of course, the forced fumble that changed the entire momentum of the game.

Hester said that Urlacher played like the Incredible Hulk that day. Dennis Green couldn’t believe his eyes, which of course, resulted in this famous rant.

Urlacher was everywhere. He could not be stopped. That player, the one we all witnessed that night, was vintage Urlacher. He used his athleticism, his strength, his instincts and meshed it into a sixth sense that night. Urlacher became superhuman. He willed the Bears to victory. So while the argument may still be true that a defensive player can’t single-handedly win a game, Urlacher proved, that for one night, no statement is ever accurate 100% of the time.