The Monday Night Meltdown

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During week 6 of the 2006 NFL season, the Chicago Bears and Arizona Cardinals met at the Cardinals’ University of Phoenix Stadium for what turned out to be one of the most entertaining games of football. The Bears battled from a 20-point deficit in the fourth quarter to win the game 24-23.

The game, played on October 16, 2006- a Monday Night Football evening- is also remembered for an expletives-filled postgame interview by Cardinals coach Dennis Green. The term “Monday Night Meltdown” came to refer to the game, in reference to the manner in which the Cardinals contrived to throw away their lead.

Buildup to the Monday Night Meltdown

By the end of week 5, the two teams already appeared to be heading for contrasting fortunes. The Bears had won the first five games of the season, their best start to a season since 1989. They were not only winning games, but they were winning in emphatic fashion. Four of the first five games had been won by a margin of 24 points or more and had the league’s best scoring record, of 32.2 points per game.

On the other hand, the Cardinals only had one win under their belt that season, which came in week 1 against the San Francisco 49ers. The Bears had the edge in the head-to-head meetings between the two teams having won 56 and lost 36 since their early days as the Decatur Staleys and later the Chicago Staleys. The Cardinals had won a pre-season meeting between the two teams 23-16 but other factors pointed to the Bears being the clear favorite.

The Cardinals were not short of quality in their ranks but rookie quarterback Matt Leinart, making only his second career start, was heavily relied upon to vanquish the Bears. The left handed rookie who had won the national championship two time with Southern California had been picked 10th overall in that year’s draft. When the game began, he immediately set about showing his quality, with seven successive completions to open the game.

On the Cardinals’ very first possession, Leinart Passed to Bryant Johnson for a touchdown. Another Leinart pass, this time to Anquan Boldin resulted in a touchdown for the latter to extend the Cardinal’s lead to 14-0. In the second quarter, the Cardinals scored two field goals to move further ahead of the Bears and seemingly establish an unassailable buffer. The Bears’ first points of the game came through a field goal by Robbie Gould, but Neil Rackers would add a field goal for the Cardinals to take the scores to 23-3. Those would be the last points for the Cardinals for the rest of the game, as the Bears’ assault started.

The Comeback

A fumble by Cardinals rookie Mark Anderson was recovered by safety Mike Brown who made a 3-yard touchdown with just two seconds left in the third quarter. Early in the fourth quarter, a Cardinals touchdown was nullified due to illegal contact by Dockett on an earlier interception. on the Bears’ next possession, quarterback Rex Grossman, who had given the ball away on numerous occasions in the game through fumbles and interceptions, threw yet another interception but Brian Urlacher did well to force a Cardinals fumble which Charles Tillman recovered for the Bears.

Tillman ran 40 yards to the Cardinals’ end zone, with the resulting touchdown narrowing the scores to 23-17. Bears rookie David Hester got the winning points for his team, with an 83-yard punt for a touchdown that left the scores at 24-23. With a few seconds on the clock, a field goal by the Cardinals went wide and on the resulting kickoff, the Bears took a knee to see out the remaining time. The Bears’ comeback win had taken their record for the season to 6-0.

Aftermath of the Monday Night Meltdown

In the postgame interview, coach Green who was extremely livid with his side’s incompetence had a meltdown of his own, yelling expletives about their inability to make their game plan count against a side they had beaten in preseason, before smacking the microphone and storming out of the pressroom. The Cardinals would win just four more games that season to finish with a 5-11 record, resulting in Green’s firing.

The Bears would finish the season with a 13-3 record and went all the way to Super Bowl XLI against the Indianapolis Colts who had Peyton Manning in their ranks. The Bears lost the game 29-17. Two seasons later, under Coach Ken Whisenhunt, the Cardinals were facing the Pittsburg Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII, losing 27-23.