Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Chicago's magic season -- ruined!

Going into Sunday's game at Green Bay, the Chicago Bears had allowed a total of 151 points in 14 games. They were well within sight of the record, set by the 2000 Baltimore Ravens, for the fewest points allowed in a 16-game season: 165. In the middle of the fourth quarter, the Bears were sitting on a 24-7 lead over the dispirited Packers, whose last six drives had produced three punts, one missed field goal and two interceptions, one of which Chicago linebacker Lance Briggs brought back for a touchdown. Green Bay was going nowhere, and the Bears were one step closer to the record.

After a 34-yard, five-and-a-half-minute drive stalled out at the Packers' 40, Bears punter Brad Maynard tried to drop a short kick inside the Green Bay 20, but the Bears gunners overran the punt, and Antonio Chatman brought it back 85 yards for a touchdown. The runback sparked a mini-rally, and the Packers added a field goal before the game was over. And just like that, the Ravens' record was safe.

(Perhaps inspired, the Ravens went out and rolled the Vikings that very night, knocking Minnesota out of playoff contention. What's especially interesting -- not ironic -- is that the Bears play the Vikings in the season finale. If Chicago had held Green Bay to 7 points, it would have gone into Week 17 needing to hold the Vikes to 6 points to break the record. Would that have been easier or harder now that neither Chicago, which is locked into the No. 2 playoff seed, nor Minnesota "has anything to play for"? But hey, if the Bears had held the Packers to just 7, would the Ravens have been similarly inspired? Probably, considering that both the Ravens' QB and their coach were playing to save their jobs. And that making the connection at all was a ridiculous overreach. But it's always fun and irresponsible to ask. I like to "stir" things "up.")

Anyway, for the past few weeks, we've been tracking the progress of the 2005 Bears vs. that of the team to which they are most often compared: the 1985 Bears. Our chart has been updated through Week 16 and can be seen here. The Super Bowl-winning team of '85 allowed 198 points, so unless the Bears let Brad Johnson go nuts and hang 30 on them, this year's club should come out ahead.

What many people (including me) forget, however, is that the stingiest Bears team of the 1980s was not the 1985 team, but rather the 1986 version. The '86 Bears gave up 187 points (though the defense did allow 1 more yard per game, which is statistically insignificant). If this year's team can hold the Vikings to fewer than 19, they'll set the team record -- and post the second-lowest total since the NFL went to the 16 game season in 1978. (The only other teams to allow fewer than 200 points in a season: 2000 Titans, 191; 1978 Steelers, 195; 2002 Buccaneers, 196; 1978 Broncos, 198.)

But those confounded special teams. You hear all the time about kickers missing field goals that could have won the Super Bowl. Oh, boo-hoo. Blown punt coverage on Sunday cost the 2005 Bears the chance at the most prominent historical footnote in the history of footnotes. Bah!

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