Consider this picture:
The Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears face off in week 17. One team enters 9-6 and needing a win to keep their playoff hopes alive while the other is 4-11.
That’s Sunday’s game, you say?
That’s true, it is, but that was also the scenario during the 2000 season with the roles reversed.
The Detroit Lions entered the final week of the 2000 season with a 9-6 record and one win away from second consecutive playoff appearance. All that stood in their way was a 4-11 Chicago Bears team. The final NFC Wild Card came down to the Lions, Rams and Packers and all the Lions had to do was win to secure it for themselves. An Associated Press article had the following to say when speaking about how unlikely it would be for the Rams to have an opportunity to defend their Super Bowl Championship:
That’s because the Lions seem unlikely to lose at home to the Bears, who they beat 21-14 at Chicago early in the season. Detroit’s resilience showed up last week in a 10-7 road win over the Jets, and there’s no reason to expect any letdown at home with a playoff berth on the line.
If only it had turned out that way.
Paul Edinger, a rookie kicker from Michigan State, broke a 20-20 tie with mere second left on the clock to break the hearts of Lions fans everywhere. He was just 7-of-11 on field goal attempts from 40 yards and out prior to booting the 54-yarder to end the Lions season. It was the longest field goal he would make until the 2005 season when a 56-yarder broke another 20-20 score to win a game over the Green Bay Packers.
History tells us that the events that transpired in the wake of Edinger’s kick were far more devastating than simply missing the playoffs. Matt Millen was hired within a matter of weeks and Gary Moeller, who had rallied the team after the resignation of Bobby Ross nine games into the season, was fired so Millen could hire Marty Morhinweg. Terror ensued.
Would a Lions victory lead to a similar chain of events for the Bears? It would likely lead to Lovie Smith’s firing although a dark decade like the Lions endured can never be predicted (and really never should happen at all).
Just keeping the Bears out of the playoffs would be sweet revenge (the Vikings could do this as well with a win over the Packers). It was just one year ago that Bears fans liked to claim that the Lions only made the playoffs because injury issues plagued the Bears in the second half of the season. A Lions win on Sunday will send them looking for another excuse.