When was the last time the Chicago Bears won eight games in a row and who was the quarterback?
Hint: You don’t have to go all the way back to Jim McMahon, but you do need to travel back past Mitch Trubisky, Jay Cutler, Brian Hoyer, Matt Barkley, Andy Dalton, Nick Foles and even my personal unsung favorite Josh McCown, who should have been left in as the starter over Cutler by Marc Trestman.
The answer is not Rex Grossman either, somewhat surprisingly. “Sexy Rexy” was the Bears quarterback when they last went to the Super Bowl in 2006 — the best Bears team of the lifetime of anyone who was born after 1985. Grossman’s 2006 Bears started the season 7-0 before getting walloped by the 1-6 Miami Dolphins 31-13 mainly due to three Grossman interceptions plus a Grossman fumble. Turnovers were a problem for Grossman who was intercepted three or more times a whopping five times in 2006.
Fast forward to Super Bowl XLI, and the Grossman turnover problem would rear its ugly head again. One lost fumble and two more interceptions, both in the fourth quarter. The first pick was returned 56 yards for a touchdown and put the nail in the coffin of any real chance the Bears had left of pulling the upset over Peyton Manning’s Indianapolis Colts even with three Colts turnovers and Devin Hester taking the opening kick for a forever-memorable touchdown.
It was a game the Bears could have won in retrospect if they had played a “clean game” in the Miami rain and perhaps run the ball more too.
Patrick Mannelly was the Bears long snapper on that Bears team as he was for 245 games over 16 seasons. Mannelly holds the record for most games played in a Bears uniform ahead of Steve McMichael’s 192. Mannelly likes to say he “participated” versus Mongo actually “played” which seems fair.
But Mannelly does own the record nonetheless.
Mannelly, coincidentally, is still friends with both Orton and Grossman so he was in a challlenging spot when I asked him on the CHGO Bears Podcast whether or not he thought Orton would have won the Super Bowl if he was the starter in 2006 instead of Grossman.
Mannelly hesitated for five seconds as he pondered the question.
“That’s tough, I was texting with Rex Grossman today,” he said. “I don’t know that’s a great question. I think Kyle brought the team closer together.”
Mannelly proceeded to give credit to Grossman for getting the Bears to the Super Bowl, but then asked himself the question “Would Super Bowl Sunday have turned out different with Orton at quarterback?”
“Probably,” Mannelly answered himself. “You wouldn’t have had the same turnovers. I don’t think Kyle would have turned the ball over as many times as Rex did on Super Bowl Sunday.”
And there you have it. The Bears Super Bowl-winning drought would have, could have, should have been over with middle-of-the-road Orton at quarterback.
Orton was never the “perfect quarterback” but he did have a knack for winning games and he is the the answer to our trivia question. It was 2005, Orton’s first season as a starter. The unheralded, under appreciated by many Bears fans Orton, helped guide — not get in the way — of an 11-win Bears season including those eight wins in a row. The Bears make the playoffs for the first time since 2001.
Orton was starting in 2005 because Grossman had broken his ankle in the preseason versus St. Louis. Win number six in his eight-game streak was over Carolina, 13-3. Orton was his usual nondescript 15-26, 1 touchdown,1 interception.
By the time the playoffs rolled around, the winning streak was over and Grossman was back healthy. Lovie Smith chose to start the rusty Grossman who had thrown only 39 regular season passes over Orton against that same Carolina team. Predictably, Grossman struggled, 17-for-41, one touchdown and one interception in what turned out to be the season-ending divisional playoff loss, 29-17.
Smith then doubled down and relegated Orton to third string in 2006 using Brian Griese as the backup. Orton was not active on Super Bowl Sunday and did not appear in a game all season.
It wasn’t until late in the 2007 season with three games left that Orton would reappear before becoming the Bears starting quarterback again in 2008. He finished his Bears career with a 21-12 record before being traded to the Denver Broncos along with three draft picks for some guy named Cutler.
Orton still owns the ninth most wins of any Bears quarterback. His 21 victores are two more than Grossman’s 19. Orton’s .636 win percentage is third all-time behind only Jim McMahon’s .754 and Sid Luckman’s .753. (Luckman won 98 games compared to 46 for McMahon.)
Orton also has one almost, could have been, Super Bowl victory, at least according to one former teammate.
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