THE 2006 SEASON
BY D. MALINOWSKI
So close, yet so far. The Bears were at the proverbial Mecca of the sporting world, and they failed miserably, churning everyone’s guts with a healthy dose of bile in the process. It will be remembered as the greatest year the Bears have had since 1985, but will also be forgotten in time for its failure. Good Rex and Bad Rex. Benson vs. Jones. The Moose. The legendary Hester. Here's a breakdown of individual and team efforts:
THOMAS JONES – Jones had another solid year, although not as dominant as 2005. Starting all 16 games, he rushed for 1,210 yards on 296 carries, a 4.1 average, with 6 TDs. He’s the first Bears runner to have back-to-back 1K seasons since Neal Anderson. 4 100-yard games. He also caught 36 balls for 154 yards, which was his worst outing, considering he only averaged 4.3 yards a catch. That part of his game has gotten steadily worse as the years wear on. He was an absolute monster in the post season, rushing for 301 yards at a 5.5 YPC with 4 touchdowns. Two of his three postseason games were 100-yarders. Jones was one of the few bright spots in the Super Bowl with a 52-yard run. Overall, he is still in top conditioning, and should be a major factor next year. That is, if he doesn’t get traded. If the Bears had won the Super Bowl, I could see him bolting, having already achieved victory in Chicago. But with a strong team still intact, I believe he’ll give it one more go in the last year of his contract.
CEDRIC BENSON – Benson became a more integral part of the offense in his 2nd year, adding 647 yards on 157 carries (4.1 average). He also scored 6 touchdowns, which was pretty good considering he had limited reps as a backup. Benson only caught 8 balls, but they went for 54 yards, which was a much better average (6.8) than TJ. He got his first 100-yard game in the season finale against Green Bay. Cedric only averaged 2.7 yards in the postseason, but did score an integral TD in the NFC championship, and he softened up defenses, which helped Jones get large chunks of yardage. His Super Bowl appearance has to be one of the most jinxed I’ve ever seen. Two carries for -1 yard. First carry he fumbles, and the second carry he gets knocked out of the game with a sprained knee. Next year, Benson will either be the starter (if Jones leaves) or share time again with Jones to keep both backs fresh. I’ll predict the latter.
ADRIAN PETERSON – Adrian was used sparingly this season as a running back, only getting 10 carries for 41 yards (4.1 average, hey all 3 guys had the same average) and 6 catches for 88 yards.(awesome 14.7 average). He did score 2 touchdowns, however. Peterson also did 3 kickoff returns for 49 yards. Still a stellar special teams player, Adrian was a very important part of the team. His role next year would only increase if Jones leaves.
JASON MCKIE – McKie didn’t do much on the ground (8 for 18, 2.3 average), but was much better out of the backfield than Jones was (25 catches for 162 yards, 6.5 average). Also had a kick return for 11 yards. I wasn’t really crazy about McKie in 2005, but he seemed to have really picked up his game in 2006, clearing holes for Jones and Benson.
MUHSIN MUHAMMAD – 60 catches, 863 yards, 5 TDs. 3 100-yard games. Moose did not have a spectacular season, but it was a marked improvement from his first year in Chicago. He caught virtually every ball thrown his way, unlike last season when he had a slew of drops. He also had a much better yards-per-catch average (14.4 from 11.7 last year) and increased his TD output by 1. 1 kickoff return for 3 yards. A fantastic run blocker, Moose really is only a possession receiver in the guise of a #1 wideout. Muhammad had a below average performance in the postseason, only getting 7 balls in 3 games, although he had a 4-yard TD catch in the Super Bowl. In that game, however, he’ll be more remembered for his inability to push a Colt defender out of bounds who intercepted a pass and returned it for a TD. Still, he should be a solid contributor for the foreseeable future.
BERNARD BERRIAN – 51 catches, 775 yards, 6 TDs. 2 100-yard games. Berrian came out on fire this year, becoming the big play threat for the Bears. He had a great 15.2 average, and most of his touchdowns were on big play bombs. He also carried 2 times for 5 yards and had 2 punt returns for 7 yards. Bernard had a great postseason, snagging 2 TDs and having a 100-yard game in the divisional playoff. Unfortunately, he was pretty much shut down in the Super Bowl. Bernard is really playing like a true #1 wideout, and should only be better next year.
RASHIED DAVIS – 22 catches, 303 yards, 2 TDs. THE clutch receiver for the Bears this year with a 13.8 average. He had the game winning catch against Minnesota in Week 3, and big catches to set up winning field goals in overtime against Tampa Bay and in the playoff game against Seattle. He was also a decent kickoff returner with 32 returns (tied for 10th all-time in a season) for 753 yards. Unfortunately, he was of no help in the Super Bowl. He’ll continue to be huge in the slot.
MARK BRADLEY – 14 catches, 282 yards, 3 TDs. Mark suffered another year filled with injuries, but did manage to make an impact in the games he played (the two New York games mainly). He was even more of a big strike player than Berrian, with a 20.1-yard average. Next year, he hopefully will be an even bigger part of the offense, stretching the field with Berrian.
JUSTIN GAGE – 4 catches for 68 yards, 17.0-yard average. Gage all but disappeared this season, and was only used when other players went down with injuries. He seems to have fallen out of favor with the staff, and likely will not be back next year.
DESMOND CLARK – 45 catches, 626 yards, 6 TDs. All three of these stats were career highs in a season with the Bears. No doubt, Dez Clark had a career year, finally becoming the tight end threat that the Bears needed. He was a big reason why the offense did so well. He had his first 100-yard game against the Bucs. Blocking strong on running plays was a big part of his game too. Desmond was fairly quiet in the postseason, but he led the team in the Super Bowl with 6 catches for 64 yards. He should still be a great TE next year as well.
JOHN GILMORE – 6 catches for 38 yards, 2 TDs. Had his best game in Week 2 against Detroit.
GABE REID – 4 catches for 37 yards. The weakest of the tight end bunch, he unfortunately had a fumble on a kickoff return in the Super Bowl.
REX GROSSMAN – Oh man, where do we begin? Rex’s first full season as a starter had the highest highs and the lowest lows. He made all the Bears seasonal Top 10 lists; 3,193 yards (2nd), 262 completions (4th), 480 attempts (2nd), 23 TDs (tied for 4th) and, unfortunately, 20 interceptions (tied for 8th). On the good side, his 3,000 yard season was the first since Erik Kramer in 1997, becoming only the 4th Bear quarterback to accomplish this. First Bears QB to start all 16 games since Kramer in 1995. He threw his first 300-yard game of his career, which hasn’t happened since Jim Miller in 2002. His 4 TD passes against the lions is something that doesn’t happen very often in Bears QB history. On the bad side, 4 of his interceptions were returned for touchdowns (in addition, he had one returned for a TD in the Super Bowl). He also had numerous fumbled snaps, many of which he lost. His 54.6% completion rate was not bad, but not great either. Rex’s postseason was average in the two playoff games, doing just enough to win and not blow it. The Super Bowl was another matter. Although he had a 71% completion rate and 1 TD pass, it didn’t make an impact. His 2 interceptions, a fumbled snap, a fumbled snap for a sack, and various other botched plays did the offense in. In all likelihood, with one more year on his contract, Rex will still be the quarterback under center next year, hopefully a more mature and less mistake-prone one. Who knows what will happen with Rex?
BRIAN GRIESE – 18 for 32, 220 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTS. Brian only came on in mopup duty for 3 games, then split time with Grossman the last two games of the season. His performance was average at best, with a highlight 75-yard TD bomb to Bradley in the season finale. Although lots of people expected Griese to overtake Rex at some point during the season, it never occurred. Will Griese start next year, or continue to be the backup? Only time will tell.
AND HOW ABOUT….
DEVIN HESTER – If there was one amazing thing about this season, it was this guy right here. He set an NFL record with 6 returns for touchdowns in a season, 3 on punt returns, 2 on kickoff returns (in the same game), and on a missed field-goal return (tying Nathan Vasher’s all-time mark from 2005.) And to top it all off, he returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown in the Super Bowl, the first time that has ever occurred! He actually had an 8th return for a TD against Seattle in the playoffs, but that punt return was called back by a lousy block in the back penalty! As far as stats, he had 20 kickoff returns for 528 yards (26.4 average), and 47 punt returns for 609 yards (13.0 average). Top ten season-wise, he is tied for 3rd in kickoff TDs (2), 3rd in punt return attempts (47), 1st in punt return yardage (609), and first in punt return TDs (3). Career wise, his 3 punt return TDs are already tied for 1st all time, and his 2 kickoff return TDs are tied for 4th all-time. Without a doubt, if this guy could keep up this insane pace, he’ll be a Hall of Famer when it’s all said and done. No one has done what he did this year, and being a rookie at that!