Biggest Bears Collapses of All Time: Heroes to Zeroes
The paranoia of the average Bears fan leads to concern about a total collapse now after the team started so well but lost 24-10 to the Los Angeles Rams.
The convincing defeat and two more games the next two weeks against strong opponents creates this panic.
There's a good reason for this feeling as there have been many good or great starts to seasons completely wasted during the 101 seasons the Bears have played.
Last year itself wasn't so hot, when they began with a 3-1 record but then finished the year 8-8.
That one doesn't rank anywhere close to some of those they had during the Lovie Smith era, when this type of roller coaster dip happened far too often and eventually led to his firing.
Marc Trestman, Dave Wannstedt, Dick Jauron, Neill Armstrong, Jim Dooley, Abe Gibron, and even Mike Ditka and George Halas went through seasons with great or at least good starts only to see it all melt down.
Here are the 12 worst Bears in-season collapses of all time.
It's possible one of your favorites didn't make it, like 1999 when Dick Jauron started his first "championship season," as he called all regular seasons, with a 3-2 record before they won only three more using offensive coordinator Gary Crowton's razzle-dazzle offense.
The Dirty Dozen
George Halas' team had the league's second-best offense and how often do Bears teams get to say that? They had Johnny Lujack of Notre Dame fame at quarterback and got out to a 5-1 start. Then they went 2-4 the rest of the way, showing even Halas could be susceptible to a collapse.
Dave Wannstedt's first Bears team got to 7-5 and had a shot at a wild card, with Jim Harbaugh and P.T. Willis playing quarterback and Alonzo Spellman, Chris Zorich, Joe Cain and Vinson Smith on defense. Then they lost the last four games, including two to 5-11 teams.
They began with a 3-1 record and created great deal of hope in Jay Cutler's first season as quarterback. The buzz had been great since April after they traded for Cutler. But Cutler had a five-interception game against the 49ers in a 10-6 loss and then Bob Babich's defense gave up 183 points in two losses to Minnesota and one loss each to the Cardinals, Ravens and Bengals. The season collapsed into a 7-9 disappointment under coach Lovie Smith.
Dick Butkus had his last chance to get into a postseason game as the Bears started out 5-2, lost, and then came back with a remarkable win. They fought back to tie the Washington Redskins, who went to the Super Bowl that year. A 40-yard Cyril Pinder touchdown run tied it at 15-15, but disaster hit when the snap on the extra point got away from Bobby Douglass. So Douglass hit Butkus for a game-winning extra-point pass back when extra-point passes or runs were worth one point. They had the ship righted with their 16-15 win and a 6-3 record it seemed. Then they went on to lose the next five games, finished 6-8, and only scored 29 points in those final five games. Dooley was fired and replaced by Abe Gibron.
Wannstedt's team had surprised everyone by making the playoffs and then winning at Minnesota the previous year. Optimism was high and they began this year with a 6-2 record. Rookie running back Rashaan Salaam was on his way to a team rookie rushing record of 1,074 yards, but he fumbled nine times that year, and Erik Kramer had a record-setting season with 29 touchdown passes but couldn't beat Brett Favre and the Packers in two shootouts. The Bears went 3-5 in the second half and missed the playoffs at 9-7. It all went down the drain from here for Wannstedt over the next three seasons.
The stock market wasn't the only thing to crash in 1929. The Bears had a 3-0 start to their season. Then Halas' team tanked like the market after a loss to the New York Giants, 26-14. They didn't win in their final nine games and had a 4-9-2 season. We complain about this Bears offense. That team scored only 22 points in the final six games. No wonder Halas went on to come up with the T-formation. At least they managed to stay solvent financially through the Great Depression thanks to some wheeling and dealing by Halas.
Mike Ditka's final Bears season was no joy ride, with a so-so 4-3 start and then eight losses in nine games. The once proud and dominant defense had largely aged out. Ditka wound up doing a lot of yelling, especially when Jim Harbaugh called an audible in Minneapolis and threw a pick-6 with a 20-0 fourth-quarter lead. Then the Vikings suddenly had hope, and stormed back to win. Michael McCaskey fired Ditka at season's end.
The good start the Bears had was very brief at 2-0 in 2002. Still, it was a momentum thing as they'd been 13-3 the previous year and lost to Philadelphia in a tough, physical playoff game. So there was no reason to think the bottom was about to fall out. It did. After nose tackle Ted Washington's season-ending Lisfranc injury left their defense exposed up the middle, they lost eight straight and finished 4-12 in a year when they had the added misery of playing all their home games at Champaign.
Ditka's team looked as dominant as ever after winning five straight division titles and trading Jim McMahon away before the season. They won the first four games after entrusting the offense to Mike Tomczak and Jim Harbaugh. They struggled on both sides of the ball and suffered several injuries, then at 5-3 they faced Green Bay. Packers quarterback Don Majikowski got flagged for stepping over the line of scrimmage on what he thought was a game-winning TD pass with 41 seconds left on fourth-and-goal from the 14. The loss of down meant the Bears seemed to have escaped to go 6-3. Replay determined "conclusively" that the pass came from behind the line and reversed the play for a Bears loss, 14-13. TV had other angles later showing it was not conclusively behind the line or even inconclusive, but that the original call had been exactly right. The Bears pouted about this for years, even putting an asterisk next to the score in their media guide. The loss began a tailspin. The Bears finished 6-10 after a 4-0 start.
Cutler might have reached his peak as an NFL quarterback. The offense under Mike Martz had begun to take off and the Bears owned a 6-3 record when Cutler decided to make a tackle after throwing an interception in a win over the San Diego Chargers that made the Bears 7-3. Cutler injured his thumb on the tackle, had to sit out and the Bears handed the ball to their backup, who had nearly pulled off a comeback in the 2010 NFC championship game. They thought Caleb Hanie was going to step in and keep them afloat. Hanie proved totally incapable. The Bears lost five in a row and didn't halt the skid until beating Minnesota in the finale, as they went 8-8 and missed the playoffs again under Smith.
Marc Trestman's second and final team didn't get off to the kind of start they wanted after their disappointment in losing the last game to the Packers to miss the playoffs. Still, they were 3-3 after six games and definite wild card candidates if not capable of finishing with a winning streak to take the division. This one rates high in Bears history not just for the record but for the way it melted down. Brandon Marshall accused teammates of various failures and offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer told Ian Rapoport the team had a case of "buyer's remorse" over giving Cutler a big, new contract. The Bears finished 5-11 and the end result was a total crash. The McCaskeys fired GM Phil Emery and Trestman and started over with John Fox and Ryan Pace.
Smith had a new boss in Emery and so he was walking the tightrope. Brian Urlacher was at the end of his career. The defense still had Charles Tillman and Lance Briggs playing effectively. Cutler was having a decent season and the Bears won seven of their first eight. At 7-1 and trailing only Atlanta in the NFC, the Bears lost five of their next six and by the time the final game came around they knew their fate was out of their hands. They beat the Detroit Lions in the finale but missed the playoffs with a 10-6 record. Plenty of times you'll hear Bears from that era refer to how they should never have fired Smith after a 10-6 record. This was merely one of several good starts squandered by the Bears under Smith, so this alone was sufficient reason for a firing. Emery wanted his own coach and got him—Trestman.