History could repeat itself in reverse depending on the outcome of the Lions-Bears game at Ford Field.
The roles are reversed, but the circumstances surrounding the game are hauntingly similar to those when the teams met in the final game of the 2000 season.
In 2000, the Lions were 9-6 and could clinch a playoff berth by beating the Bears in the final regular-season game at the old Pontiac Silverdome.
The Bears were 4-11 going into the game and pulled a major upset. Paul Edinger’s 54-yard field goal in the final seconds gave the Bears a 23-20 victory.
It was a shocking loss, one that turned the Silverdome into the Silver-Tomb and prompted owner William Clay Ford to revamp the franchise.
Matt Millen was hired as president, something Ford explored doing after the 1998 season. Millen had no management experience and was hired out of the FOX network broadcast booth.
He was a fresh face in NFL management – and the hiring proved to be a disaster. The Lions suffered through the worst decade in franchise history, and Millen was fired early in the 2008 season.
A dozen years later, the Bears must beat the Lions to stay alive for a wild-card berth in the NFC playoffs. A Bears loss puts them out of the playoffs and could cost Lovie Smith his job after nine seasons as head coach.
The Bears and Vikings are 9-6 and competing for the last spot in the NFC playoffs as a wild card. The Bears have to beat the Lions and have the Vikings win or lose to Green Bay at home in a night game.
A Bears loss to the Lions puts them out of the playoffs and finishes off one of the worst, and most damaging, skids in franchise history.
It also makes the hot seat Smith is sitting on burn even hotter.
The Bears were 7-1 after eight games and leading the NFC North. They were hailed as one of the NFL’s surprise teams.
All was well in Chicago. Quarterback Jay Cutler was the leader they missed last season, when he went out with an injury when the Bears had a 7-3 record.
But the season has imploded on the Bears. They’re 2-5 since that 7-1 start, and Cutler has been mediocre – at best. And running back Matt Forte, who went out late last season with a knee injury, is hobbling again on a bad ankle.
There has been speculation that even if the Bears make the playoffs at 10-6, Smith could be gone because of the team’s second-half fade.
He is guaranteed to have his fifth winning season, and the 2006 team made it to the Super Bowl and lost to the Indianapolis Colts, led by Peyton Manning.
There is enormous pressure on the Bears, which is part of what makes the situation seem like 2000 in reverse.
In that season, the Lions were 9-6 – same as the 2012 Bears.
And the Bears were 4-11 – same as the 2012 Lions.
And just like the Bears of 2012, the Lions of 2000 needed a win to clinch a playoff berth.
The Lions already had made a coaching change. Bobby Ross resigned after nine games and a 5-4 record. Gary Moeller was promoted to the head job.
The Lions reacted to the change by winning their first three games under Moeller, setting up a cakewalk to the playoffs.
But they slipped on the icing, setting up the win-or-out final game.
It was a good setting for the Lions, with the game on Christmas Eve. All was bright, if not calm, as the Lions rolled to a 10-0 lead. With nothing to play for, the Bears looked like a team that simply wanted to head home for the holiday – at halftime.
But things gradually turned around. Starting quarterback Charlie Batch went out when he was hit and reinjured his ribs. Enter Stoney Case in place of Batch.
The Bears slowly chipped away and finally got a 13-10 lead in the third quarter.
Case scrambled for a TD in the fourth quarter to give the Lions a 17-13 lead, but that’s when the game, the season – and the franchise – came tumbling down.
Case had an interception returned for a touchdown, and late in the fourth quarter, with the score tied at 20-20 and the Lions in position to drive for a winning field goal, Case was hit from behind and fumbled.
If Alfred Hitchcock had founded NFL Films, he might have produced and directed a sequence of plays that would have made “Psycho” look like the sequel to “Charlie Brown’s Christmas” in comparison to the documentary that would unfold for the Lions.
First the interception and a 61-yard return by R.W. McQuarters that gave the Bears a quick TD and the lead. Anything would have been better.
Then the fumble by Case, with the score tied. He was being chased from behind and lost the ball when he was hit.
Bears ball, out of field-goal range, clock ticking – and a long sideline completion put them in position for Paul Edinger to try a 54-yard field goal.
Edinger was a rookie who played at Michigan State, he was 20-26 on field goals at that point, and had made his only previous attempt from 50 yards or longer.
Edinger hammered the kick. It was straight, and it sailed over the crossbar with yards to spare. It might have been good from 64 yards.
There was only time enough for a kickoff, and the Lions could not mount a return.
End of game. Out of playoffs.
The Lions’ franchise never looked the same.
In hindsight, that 9-7 finishing record in 2000 wasn’t so bad.
It wasn’t until the final game of 2003, when the Lions beat the Rams, that the Lions won 10 games under Millen’s regime.
That made them 10-38. And it never got much better.
Beware, Bears management. Win or lose, consider the consequences.