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Four Years Later ... (1 Viewer)


Loss still stings four years later


AP Sports

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) - The bitter taste still lingers four years later.

The Chicago Bears were back in the playoffs after a long absence, and had a first-round bye and a home game after winning their division.

Then, they lost to Philadelphia 33-19.

"I didn't like how we ended the '01 season," general manager Jerry Angelo said Thursday. "It made us look weak. I've got that taste in my mouth, still."

And here they are again, back in the postseason with a bye and a home game after winning their division. Only this time, Angelo hopes for a different outcome.

After five consecutive losing seasons and six without a playoff appearance, the Bears went 13-3 in 2001. Then came that Philadelphia game. It was a bitter end to Angelo's first season with the organization.

"We just didn't look like we were ready to play," Angelo said. "We didn't play well, and we got beat in our backyard. We got our butts kicked. That leaves everybody with a bad taste. You can't have that happen in your backyard."

Rather than jump into the NFL's upper echelon, the Bears staggered after that playoff appearance, going 4-12, 7-9 and 5-11 last season, Lovie Smith's first as head coach. Angelo came under criticism, and the volume only increased as the team staggered to a 1-3 start.

Now, it's turned down.

The Bears won eight straight and 10 of their final 12. They finished 11-5 and won the NFC North behind their defense, offensive line and running game.

"It's the next step on the rung," Angelo said about a possible playoff victory. "It's an important one. We're real excited about being in a position to do it, but we've got to go out there and take it."

Angelo thought the Bears had the talent to pull this off a year ago, only to see the season collapse under the weight of injuries. And things didn't look good when starting quarterback Rex Grossman broke his left ankle in the preseason, an injury that caused him to miss the first 13 games and ultimately left rookie Kyle Orton behind center.

"A lot of my critics were very hard about not having a veteran quarterback in here, but we felt good about Kyle and what we saw in the preseason," Angelo said. "It was very gratifying to see him come in, show the maturity that he did. He played with a lot of moxie. It was a good story.

"Then having Rex come back alive again - it's not like Lazarus," Angelo continued. "We felt like he was going to be OK."

Angelo said he understood the criticism, and realized he wasn't going to change many minds as the losses piled up.

"We were losing, and we weren't creating hope," Angelo said.

Now, there's hope. They're in the playoffs. Their opponent will be determined this weekend.

"No one works harder than (Angelo)," Smith said. "He deserves a lot of the credit for what we're doing right now."

Few outside the organization thought the Bears would be in this position.

To defensive end Adewale Ogunleye , the first glimpse of things to come was when they intercepted Joey Harrington five times in a 38-6 victory over Detroit in Week 2, although the Chicago lost its next two games. Then, he mentioned the 13-3 victory over Carolina on Nov. 20, when the Bears sacked Jake Delhomme eight times.

"That's when I was kind of convinced we had something special," Ogunleye said. "The front four were able to get after the quarterback. The defensive backs played well. The linebackers played well. It kind of came together."

And there was Angelo on Thursday, in position to wash away that bitter taste.

"I don't feel vindicated; we've always felt good about our plan," he said. "I feel gratified."


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