After a one-year hiatus, the Super Bowl losers' curse is back, and the Bears are the victims.
It started at the turn of the century when the Giants lost to the Ravens in the Super Bowl and came back with a 7-9 season. The Rams, Bucs, Panthers and Eagles followed their Super Bowl appearances with losing seasons.
In 2006, the Seahawks had symptoms of the curse by losing Steve Hutchinson in free agency and fighting through an injury-plagued season that saw quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and Shaun Alexander miss time. Despite those problems, the Seahawks won the NFC West and a playoff game.
The Bears haven't been as fortunate. If they lose to the Redskins on Thursday night, they will drop to 5-8 and be guaranteed of not having a winning season. With games ahead against Minnesota, Green Bay and New Orleans, the Bears are facing the strong likelihood of a losing season.
So what went wrong?
Though the Bears had injuries, they weren't devastating. At least six teams had more missed starts than the 53 endured by Bears starters because of injuries.
It wasn't as if free agency raided the Bears following their Super Bowl success. The front office made the decision to trade halfback Thomas Jones to the Jets to satisfy his desire to get a bigger contract and to give Cedric Benson the chance to start. Surely, the Bears can't blame their bad 2007 season on the defensive tackle losses of Tank Johnson, Alfonso Boone and Ian Scott.
Like most Super Bowl losers, though, the Bears followed the unfortunate pattern of thinking their reputation alone would produce a winning season. In the past week, defensive starters have admitted that the Bears thought they were an elite team destined to return to the playoffs.
Another factor is the makeup of the NFC North. In recent years, the Bears have benefited greatly from the ineptitude of their division rivals. The Lions haven't had a winning season since 2000. The Vikings were in a quarterback transition. The Packers had a 38-year-old quarterback with a young, rebuilding team and weren't expected to make a playoff run. Like the Eagles during their four-year run atop what was then a weak NFC East, the Bears thought they were in Year 3 of a four-year championship run.
As it turned out, the North arose while the Bears didn't. Quarterback Rex Grossman played himself out of the starting job early because of turnovers, and the defense wasn't a monster this season. Injuries played a part in the defense's downfall. It hurt Chicago to lose safety Mike Brown's leadership. Nathan Vasher missed most of this season with a groin injury, robbing Chicago of a Pro Bowl-caliber cornerback. Defensive tackle Tommie Harris has been playing hurt all season, and opponents are getting enough blocks on middle linebacker Brian Urlacher to wear him down.
After blowing a nine-point lead at home against the Giants in Week 13, the Bears can forget about the playoffs if they lose on Thursday night.
Once again, FedEx Field will be emotional. The Redskins are still suffering from the tragic death of Sean Taylor. Going to the funeral Monday and having only a walk-through Tuesday will prevent Washington from getting a full practice in before the Bears game.
The Redskins will be playing on instincts and emotions. The Bears are just playing out the schedule. Grossman is trying to win back the front office and get a contract extension. The offensive line is being reviewed. Thursday night could be the last hurrah of this season for the Bears.