Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith says he doesn’t really remember the last time his team visited University of Phoenix Stadium too well.
“You know, I’m getting up in age now in the 50s, it’s hard for me to remember some things,” he said in a conference call. “But I do remember we came back and were able to win a big game out there.”
Allow us to set the stage for the coach.
It was the evening of October 16, 2006.
Losers of four straight games, the 1-4 Cardinals welcomed the 5-0 Bears to the Valley for a Monday Night Football matchup. Led by rookie quarterback Matt Leinart — who was making his second career start — Arizona entered the game a huge underdog.
Eight minutes into the game, the Cardinals were up 7-0 courtesy of a 12-play, 77-yard drive that culminated with a Leinart to Bryant Johnson touchdown pass. The teams traded punts before Bears quarterback Rex Grossman was intercepted. It was the first of four for the young (and terrible) QB.
Leinart threw another touchdown pass on the ensuing drive, a 26-yard strike to Anquan Boldin, and Neil Rackers made two of three field goal attempts in the quarter to increase the Cardinals’ lead heading into the half. The home team was up 20-0 at the intermission, which at the time seemed as insurmountable as it was surprising.
Halftime stats for the quarterbacks:
Rex Grossman: 7/15 for 57 yards and 2 interceptions
Matt Leinart: 13/18 for 125 yards and 2 touchdowns
Congrats Cardinals, you found your quarterback of the future and he’s leading your team to an impressive victory in front of a national TV audience!
Oh, you mean there are two halves in a football game?
The Cardinals went three-and-out on their first drive of the second half, and the Bears were competent enough to put together a drive that led to a 23-yard Robbie Gould field goal. The score 20-3 now, the Cardinals were still in control, and even more so after Arizona responded to Chicago’s drive with a 13-play, 49-drive of their own. Rackers’ third field goal of the game put Arizona up 23-3.
The Bears went three-and-out on their next drive, and with little time left in the period it looked like Arizona would head into the fourth quarter with a 20-point lead and the football.
But then right tackle Oliver Ross forgot to block Bears defensive end Mark Anderson, who got to Leinart untouched, sacked him and forced a fumble. Chicago safety Mike Brown scooped up the ball and ran it back three yards for a touchdown, and the game moved into the fourth quarter with one team having the lead and the other a bit of momentum.
It all went to hell for the Cardinals from there.
The teams traded punts before Cardinals defensive lineman Darnell Dockett picked off Grossman with just more than nine minutes remaining. He returned the ball 73 yards for a touchdown, seemingly putting the game away. But the call on the field was challenged – and reversed. The Cardinals still had the ball, but it was at their own 27.
Arizona went three-and-out from there and punted away. The Bears drove to midfield before Grossman was picked off for the fourth-and-final time of the evening, and with 5:53 left in the game the Cardinals had the ball at their own 41. Still up 13, the Cardinals appeared to have survived.
First down, Edgerrin James rushes for -1 yard.
Second down, the box score reads:
E. James up the middle to ARZ 42 for 2 yards (B. Urlacher). FUMBLES (B. Urlacher), RECOVERED by CHI-C.Tillman at ARZ 40. C. Tillman for 40 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
James was stood up at the line for what seemed like an eternity, and while the officials probably could have ruled forward progress stopped long before the strip, they did not and Edge coughed up the football. Suddenly the Bears were within six, and the Cardinals needed to do something offensively to stem the tide.
They got one first down before bringing Scott Player on to punt with 3:17 left in the game. Player’s kick was received by Devin Hester at the Chicago 17, who went virtually untouched all the way end zone.
The score was now Chicago 24, Arizona 23.
There was still time left, though, and Leinart calmly moved the Cardinals to the Chicago 23 with under a minute left. Rackers was brought on to kick a 41-yard field goal, which he promptly pushed to the left, and Arizona lost the game.
The final stats:
Grossman: 14/37 for 144 yards and 4 interceptions
Leinart: 24/42 for 232 yards and 2 touchdowns
Bears: 0 offensive touchdowns
Cardinals coach Dennis Green: 1 press conference meltdown