Yep, that game. Fifteen years later, we’re revisiting what’s been called the comeback of the year in 2006, the sixth-greatest comeback of all time by the NFL Network and simply ‘the Monday Night Meltdown’ in Arizona. It also led to one of the most famous postgame tirades ever.

Six turnovers. Zero offensive touchdowns. One hundred eighteen fewer total yards. And a victory.

It all added up to a night to remember for the Chicago Bears.

It’s been 15 years since one of the most memorable Monday Night Football games of all time, but it wasn’t supposed to be that way. It wasn’t supposed to take multiple oddities for the Bears to beat the Arizona Cardinals.

The Bears had entered the Week 6 matchup undefeated, while the Cardinals were a lowly 1-4. What was supposed to be a coming out party for a contender instead turned into one of the most memorable games – and most unusual box scores – since the turn of the century. So much so that the contest has its own wikipedia page.

cardinals-bears box score

The Start

All good comebacks must start with deficits, and the Bears found themselves in a hole very quickly. After a three-and-out to start the game, Matt Leinart marched the Cardinals down the field to give Arizona a 7-0 lead on an 11-yard touchdown pass to Bryant Johnson.

Bears quarterback Rex Grossman became known for his “Good Rex” and “Bad Rex” tendencies starting with this game during the 2006 season. Unfortunately, Bad Rex locked Good Rex in the closet and showed up on this night as he threw the first of his four interceptions to Aaron Francisco before Leinart struck again three plays later with a touchdown pass to Anquan Boldin. It was Boldin’s only touchdown, but his monster day was far from over.

bears-cardinals QB comparison

The second quarter wasn’t any better for the Bears’ inept offense, as three more Grossman turnovers helped lead to six more points for the Cardinals to make it 20-0 at half. It could have been even worse, as Neil Rackers missed one of his three attempts in the quarter – a 52-yarder. It would prove to be a bad omen for the Cardinals.

The Finish

The opening of the second half was the first positive step for the Bears. Obafemi Ayanbadejo was called for holding on the Cardinals first play from scrimmage, which helped stall the drive and force a punt. The Bears offense showed one of its only flashes of competency on the ensuing drive, as Grossman spread the ball around for four passes of 10 or more yards on the first (and only) scoring drive of the day for Chicago.

Even that drive ended in disappointment, however, as the Bears couldn’t cash in a first-and-goal from the 3-yard line and settled for a field goal from Robbie Gould to make it 20-3.

The Cardinals answered right back, with a drive that gained new life when Dante Wesley was whistled for a roughing the punter penalty. Leinart then converted on a third-and-15 with a pass to the aforementioned Boldin when it looked like the Bears might get off the field again. Eight plays later, Neil Rackers connected to push the lead back to 20.

WR comparison Bears-Cardinals

If you think Anquan Boldin’s name is coming up on nearly every Cardinals drive, you are correct. He finished the day with 12 catches on a whopping 18 targets for 136 yards and a touchdown. It was tied for the second-most targets for a Cardinals wide receiver since 1960.

most targets optagraphic

It seemed like the Cardinals just had to play mistake-free football to hold on to a 20-point lead late in the third quarter, but they were unable to do so. With eight seconds left in the quarter and the Cardinals at their own 15-yard-line after a good punt by Brad Maynard, Leinart took a blindside hit from an untouched Mark Anderson, and lost the football. Mike Brown, the Bears opportunistic safety, scooped it up and ran it in for Chicago’s first touchdown of the day.

Anderson was a fifth-round pick, and his great rookie season as a pass-rush specialist helped fortify the star-led Bears defense with the depth it needed. His 12 sacks as a rookie were the most he had in any season of his career.

For much of the fourth quarter, it didn’t seem like the Bears had a comeback in them, and neither team could move the ball. Grossman’s fourth interception of the game with under six minutes to go and the Bears down 13 seemed to wrap up the game, but Brian Urlacher had other ideas.

The Cardinals tried to run some time off the clock with two straight handoffs to Edgerrin James. On the second of those, James was hit by Alfonso Boone at the line of scrimmage, and Urlacher came in and ripped the ball out with his right arm. Charles Tillman, normally the one causing the fumbles, picked it up and returned it 40 yards for the Bears second defensive touchdown of the game.

Bears-cardinals RB comparison

The Cardinals got another first down catch from Boldin on the next drive, but then were forced to punt from their own 33-yard-line, something they would come to regret.

Devin Hester, the Bears second-round rookie at the time, had already returned one punt for a touchdown in the season opening 26-0 win over the Green Bay Packers. Lightning would strike twice in five weeks, as he took the punt from Scott Player 83 yards for a touchdown to give the Bears the lead.

Hester showed off his lightning quick burst as soon as he saw daylight, something coverage units would come to dread for years to come. Hester set the record for most combined kickoff and punt return touchdowns in a season in NFL history as a rookie (without even including his kickoff return TD to open the Super Bowl), and then broke his own record the next year. He now holds the record for most return touchdowns of all time, and his game-winning return on Monday Night Football against the Cardinals served as a coming out party to the rest of the league.

However, Leinart refused to let the Cardinals go quietly into the night. He completed five of six passes on the Cardinals final drive for 38 yards, and then handed it to James twice before yielding to the usually reliable Neil Rackers for a 40-yard field goal attempt. But his kick leaked left and preserved the victory for Chicago.

The miss was all the more stunning coming from Rackers, who had hit a then-record 40 field goals in 42 attempts in the previous season while leading the league with 95.2 field goal percentage. The Cardinals looked like they would avert disaster, but were instead left with one more missed opportunity, and one of the most memorable post-game tirades of all time from Head Coach Dennis Green.

(via aarondesmarais)

The Historically Ugly Win

The Bears offense was about as bad as possible during a win. Chicago was one of six teams since 2000 to turn the ball over six times and still win the game. The Bears were also one of only seven teams since 2000 to have 30 or fewer offensive touches and win.

The main culprit was Grossman, whose 10.2 quarterback rating was the second lowest for any Bears quarterback since 2000 that threw at least 25 passes, behind only Jay Cutler’s 7.9 rating against the Baltimore Ravens on December 20, 2009. And the Bears haven’t exactly been known for stellar quarterback play during that time frame.

But the Bears were able to prevail, which is no ordinary feat when a quarterback plays that poorly. Since at least 1960, there have only been 22 instances of a team winning a game when its quarterback threw four picks and zero touchdowns. And Grossman had the fifth-worst yards per attempt among those 22 quarterbacks. The Bears fell behind by 20 points in the second half and got almost no offensive contributions at all, yet still won.

The Legendary Performance

Urlacher had one of the signature games of his Hall-of-Fame career. The most memorable moment was his forced fumble of James that led to a touchdown, but his tackling prowess was what kept the Bears close throughout the game. Urlacher had the most total tackles by a Bears player since at least 1960 with 19.

defense stats bears-cardinals

With Urlacher providing support, the Bears were able to stifle James and prevent the Cardinals from running out the clock. Even a couple more first downs on the ground would’ve allowed the Cardinals to preserve their lead and come out ahead. But the Bears stout defense never relented, and James had the least yards since at least 1960 for a running back with at least 35 carries.

Fewest Rushing Yards with 35+ Carries (Since 1960)

Edgerrin James, ARICHI10/16/20063655
Jamie Morris, WASPHI11/12/19893888
Heath Sherman, PHITB10/6/19913589
Walter Payton, CHIOAK11/7/19763697
James Allen, CHINE12/10/20003797

The Bears constantly won the battles at the line of scrimmage, and James lost yards on 18 of his 36 rushing attempts. Only one of his rushes went for more than 10 yards. The defensive touchdowns and Hester are the highlights of this game, but the Bears run defense was a huge catalyst for the team’s victory.

In the end, the Bears strengths and weaknesses were laid out for all to see that Monday night. The team was often plagued by offensive inconsistency, but the defense was dominant and Hester’s magic gave them a boost.

Even though the team came up short in the Super Bowl against the Indianapolis Colts, the Bears enjoyed the team’s most successful season since the storied 1985 campaign.

So, in a way, Green was right. The Bears were who we thought they were. And because the Cardinals let them off the hook, we have a game worth remembering 15 years later.

Design by Matt Sisneros.