This Sunday marks the 10th anniversary of one of the most remarkable comeback wins in Bears history, a thrilling 24-23 victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Monday Night Football.
Trailing 23-3 late in the third quarter in Arizona on Oct. 16, 2006, the Bears staged a miraculous rally, scoring two touchdowns on defense and one on special teams to escape with a stunning 24-23 win.
The victory enabled the Bears to improve to 6-0 and helped fuel their run to an NFC North title and an appearance in Super Bowl XLI.
To commemorate the occasion a decade later, I conducted a virtual roundtable discussion with four players who were an integral part of the 2006 Bears and experienced that unforgettable victory firsthand. The panel includes cornerback Charles Tillman, linebacker Lance Briggs, defensive end Alex Brown and long-snapper Patrick Mannelly.
"When I look back at my career and think of the most memorable games, I would have to say No. 1 is the NFC championship win in 2006 when we beat the Saints at home and the Arizona game is No. 2. I remember more plays from that game than any other I ever played. It was an improbable comeback. If you look at the stats, there's no way we should have won. Our defense was the reason why we won obviously. But games aren't typically won that way and they proved that night how good they were."
"In terms of the regular season, that's the No. 1 game I ever played in. It's the best one. It's hard to get 11 guys doing one thing and we did that perfectly. We executed our game plan in the second half to a tee, scoring all those points. It was 11 guys doing one thing, not one guy doing 11 things. That was the difference from the first half to the second half. We came out a little sluggish and we had to change our attitude and believe in our technique and believe in the system and go out there and create takeaways. It was the one thing that coach [Lovie] Smith used to preach over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. It was beat into your head that takeaways win games, and we went out there and we took the ball away."
"That game is at the top for me. Of course you have the Green Bay games, the Detroit and Minnesota games. They're all big games. But that one was special because the defense put the team on its back and said, 'We're going to win this game.'"
Defense was dominant
Defensive end Mark Anderson, a fifth-round pick who set a Bears rookie record with 12 sacks in 2006, ignited the comeback by forcing Cardinals quarterback Matt Leinart to fumble on a blindside sack. Safety Mike Brown returned the ball three yards for a touchdown, drawing the Bears to within 23-10 with :02 left in the third quarter.
"We just needed something positive to happen. Nothing positive happened in the first half. But we started to claw back. Mark made a great play and Mike Brown is always Johnny-on-the-spot. He picks it up and scores and now we've got life."
The opportunistic Bears defense then delivered again as middle linebacker Brian Urlacher ripped the ball away from running back Edgerrin James and Tillman returned the fumble 40 yards for a TD, closing the gap to 23-17 with 5:00 left in the fourth quarter.
"I was on the right side of the field and I think we were in our 'tank' package, so I was like the extra linebacker lined up on the tight end in the box. I ran to the ball and it was like an early Christmas present. The football was right there. It was just sitting there and I was like, 'Oh man, I'll take it. I'll gladly take it.' And I'll thank Mr. Brian Urlacher—the old, bald Brian Urlacher—for that early Christmas present."
"I just remember the effort the defense was playing with. They kept Edgerrin James up and Brian's digging in there and digging in there for the ball and he just pulls it out. That goes back to Lovie teaching them to win the turnover battle. Offensively, we weren't putting up any points, so they felt like they had to get the ball back and score on defense. I remember vividly seeing Brian and all the defensive players on every tackle trying to get the ball out and fortunately on that play he did and Peanut picked it up and ran it in."
Hester provided magic
The best was still yet to come as rookie Devin Hester returned a punt 83 yards for a touchdown to put the Bears ahead 24-23 with 2:58 remaining.
This Sunday marks the 10th anniversary of one of the most remarkable comeback wins in Bears history, a thrilling 24-23 victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Monday Night Football. Here are some action shots from the win.
"After Urlacher snatched the ball out and Peanut scooped and scored, we were thinking, 'All we've got to do is hold them and we're going to win this game.' So we hold them and my next thought is that if they kick it to Devin, he's going to run it back for a touchdown because at that point all the momentum was with us. You could hear all the Bears fans in the stadium getting loud. It was fantastic. I can still see Hester running that back. It was unbelievable. It was a great moment."
"When you have a guy like Devin returning, you want to block for him. So I think the 10 guys blocking, their mindset was on another level because they knew that the only thing he needed was a crease. I've got to block my man long enough and just give Devin a crease. It doesn't have to be a knockdown or a pancake. I just need to give him a crease."
"Honestly, every time Devin went back there the entire team stood up and believed he could return the kick for a touchdown. The way things were going in that game, I can't say I knew that he was going to return it, but I was thinking, 'This might be another great line to this story if he does do it and I wouldn't put it past him.' And all of a sudden he busted through up the middle, shook [Cardinals punter] Scott Player and was in for a touchdown. I had to run in after that for the PAT and I just remember running onto the field saying, 'Blank blank, I can't believe that just happened."
Despite the dramatic rally, the game was not over. After Hester's TD, Leinart drove the Cardinals to the Bears' 22. But Neil Rackers missed a 40-yard field goal with :47 left.
Celebration was epic
The jubilant Bears streamed into their locker room after the remarkable win, hooting and hollering so loud that quarterback Rex Grossman had to raise his voice to be heard during his post-game press conference in an adjacent room.
It was a vast departure from the scene inside the locker room at halftime, where veteran center and co-captain Olin Kreutz addressed the team.
"Olin wasn't the most verbal guy in front of the team. He led kind of like the grass roots way, talking to guys one-on-one. So when he spoke that day, everybody looked at him and their ears perked up. He told us we were going to win that game, and then we went out and did it. It was an improbable comeback and a lot of that stemmed from Olin saying we were going to do it. Olin as the leader of the team and people believed him. His words inspired us to go out there and pull off that improbable comeback."
"Olin wasn't yelling. It wasn't like he was Ray Lewis giving a speech. Olin just said, 'No one panic. We're going to go out there in the second half and we're going to hit them in the mouth and we're going to win this game.' And the second half was a different story. Guys got a little pep talk and had a different mindset. Our captains led and all the other players—the enlisted guys—we followed and we did our part, 11 guys working together. It's scary to see what 11 guys can do when they all believe, not 10 guys, not nine guys, but all 11 guys living and breathing one common goal and that's win this game. It's powerful. Coming back from 20 points down is very powerful."
Urlacher was unstoppable
No one on that night in Arizona 10 years ago was more powerful than Urlacher. The reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year played like a man possessed, registering a career-high 25 tackles, three tackles-for-loss, two pass breakups and three quarterback hits.
Brian Urlacher registered a career-high 25 tackles.
"I got a touchdown because of that guy. He was just on another level. I know the term 'beast mode' is for Marshawn Lynch. But that was pre-Marshawn Lynch and Urlacher was in beast mode that night. He was killing it on every level. He was sideline-to-sideline, downhill smacking people in the mouth. He was the Monster of the Midway, like a throwback player from 1950. He was clothes-lining guys, forcing fumbles, smacking people, pancaking linemen, deflecting balls, he was everywhere."
"I saw him play a lot of great games and that was definitely one of his best performances. It was get-out-of-my-way because I'm going to make this next play and that's the way it was on every play. It just seemed like it didn't matter how hard or how fast you got there he was getting there a step faster and a second sooner than everybody else on defense."
"He went to some other planet and started making every play. It was unbelievable. Brian was always head and shoulders above everybody else during that time. But to see him take his game to a completely different level that even we hadn't seen was pretty spectacular."
Green with envy
The victory marked the first time the Bears had rallied from a 20-point deficit to win since Oct. 25, 1987 when they defeated the Buccaneers 27-26.
After the final whistle, Cardinals coach Dennis Green delivered a rant for the ages, only adding more lore to the game. Green famously slammed his fist down and said, "The Bears are who we thought they were and we let them off the hook!"
"Post-game press conferences are never on in the locker room, but for some reason the TV feed happened to be on and I remember everybody watching it and chuckling. I think [Green] got some Coors Light commercials out of it."
"I think what made that game historic and why people remember it is the rant that coach Green went on. Ten years later, it's still hilarious. It was great."
"I didn't see it until the next morning. Lovie let me stay in Arizona after the game and I flew to L.A. the next morning to appear on 'The Best Damn Sports Show Period.' I learned about it when I was in the green room before I was ready to go on. It was the icing on the cake of that game."