LAKE FOREST – Just like that, it’s back to where they were for most of the decade.
The newness and excitement of an NFC North championship brought by a Bears’ team with a fresh vibe in 2018 added some new energy to a franchise that was left out of the postseason since 2010.
Over the course of four months, Matt Nagy’s first team brought nothing but joy up until one kick at the end of the Wild Card playoff game on January 6th. With an offense having another year in the coach’s system and a healthy amount of players returning to a top-ranked defense, many thought 2019 would bring more of the same.
Yet a generational tradition continued for the Bears instead, as sustained success proved trick once again for a franchise that will see their Super Bowl title drought reach 34 years in a couple of weeks.
Since the 1992 season, the Bears have only qualified for the postseason in back-to-back years once, and that came under Lovie Smith in 2005 and 2006. The two-time NFC North champions went from the divisional round to the Super Bowl but fell out of the playoffs the next three years.
That trend has been common for the team for the better part of three decades, with playoff years often followed by disappointments.
After a 9-7 season and a Wild Card win over the Vikings, the 1995 Bears were expected to make their push for a deep run in the NFC Playoffs. A strong offense helped the Bears to a 6-2 start, but a second half slump where they lost five of six games led to a 9-7 finish.
Despite a win in the season finale over the Eagles, the Bears lost a tie-breaker to the Falcons and would start a six-year playoff drought for the franchise.
After one of the most incredible seasons in franchise history in 2001, where they won eight games by seven points or less en route to a surprise 13-3 record, the team had an epic crash during a bizarre 2002 season.
Renovations of Soldier Field were so expansive that the Bears were forced to play their home games in Champaign at Memorial Stadium. After two more close wins to open the season, Dick Jauron’s team collapsed and lost their next eight games as injuries crushed the team suddenly full of bad luck.
They’d finish 4-12 on the season and Jauron, who was the 2001 NFL Coach of the Year, was fired after the 2003 season.
After missing the playoffs in 2007, 2008, and 2009, the Bears regained momentum in the second part of the Smith era. They made the NFC Championship game in January of 2011 before falling to the Packers at Soldier Field, then had a promising start to the 2011 season.
But en route to a fifth-straight win that improved them to 7-3 on the season, Jay Cutler broke his thumb trying to make a tackle and would miss the rest of the year. The team slumped late in the season, losing five-straight games before beating the Vikings on the road in the season finale.
At 8-8, they’d finish two full games out of an NFL Wild Card spot.
Sunday’s loss to Green Bay officially added the 2019 Bears to the list of teams over the last generation that failed to go to the playoffs in back-to-back years.
An uneven season has seen the Bears turn things around a bit after a 3-5 start to the season, but it wasn’t enough to send them to their second-to-last week with a shot at the postseason. Two games remain for the team against the Chiefs and the Vikings, with each team fighting for playoff positioning, as the Bears still have a shot at their first back-to-back winning seasons since 2005-2006.
Yet it won’t be much consolation for a group that produced so much joy a year ago, then an equal amount of frustration in 2019.