The 1989 Chicago Bears season is an interesting one. The team started off 4-0, and were a surprising 8-8 overall, which is unusual for this time period. What was the difference in the 1989 and 1988 Bears? Did it have to do with Ditka’s “46” defense? Or was it a combination of both? Let’s look at the key moments of the season. What made this team so special? What can we learn from 1988’s season?
The 1989 Bears’ season began with a 4-0 record, which was the first since 1983. After their 5-0 start in the previous year, the 1989 Bears had high expectations. They had won the division five times and reached the NFC Championship the year before, but they failed to achieve that goal. This season was a disappointment, as they ended up with a 6-10 record. Despite the 4-0 start, the Bears did win the NFC North Division, and they started the season 3-0.
The Steelers won the first game. The Bears won the game 20-0 by scoring 22 points on the Steelers defense. The following two games were losses to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Houston Oilers, respectively. The Bears lost 31-32 to Tampa Bay Buccaneers after winning the first three games. The season ended with another loss for the Bears, as they lost two of their last three games. The season ended 5-11, and the Bears were eliminated from the playoffs.
The 1989 Chicago Bears won their first four games, including two victories over their division rivals, Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers. The Bears defeated the Packers 31-13 at Lambeau Field, while the Vikings won 19-16 at Soldier Field. They were one win away from winning the division, and the first four games of the 1989 season were great. This success was a great start to the franchise’s history.
After the 3-0 start to the Bears’ 1989 season, the Bears’ defense struggled. The defense was poor, ranking 20th among the 28-team NFL. However, Trace Armstrong and Richard Dent had great seasons and Mike Singletary was a good middle linebacker. The Bears’ defense climbed to ninth in the NFL in 1990. It is worth remembrance that in 1990, the Chicago Bears went 4-9-2 to finish the season. Although they didn’t have the best defense in 1989, the offense was better than the Bears.
The 4-0 start to the Bears’ 1989 season ended with three consecutive losses. In week five, the Bears lost to the Buccaneers 42-35. They were a seven point underdog against the Giants in week six. They went on to lose the Packers and Lions at home. The Bears then fell to the Redskins 27-7 on Monday Night Football. The 1980s Chicago Bears had a poor defensive line, and started only Tony Woods and John Shannon at defensive end.
The defense of the ’89 Bears was also impressive, but they needed a quarterback as well as a running back. Adrian Anderson, running back, ran for eighty yards, a record. The defense forced six turnovers and intercepted Randall Cunningham four times. Richard Dent had three sacks. The offense led by 20-3 and had a chance of winning the game with a Tomczak pass from Thornton.
The 1989 Chicago Bears were a team with a lot of young talent. Three rookies started on defense, including Trace Armstrong, John Roper, and Donnell Woolford. Mike Singletary, a defensive tackle, would be named Defensive player of the Year and a 1st-team All-NFL selection. Singletary would be the team’s only selection to the Pro Bowl.
The Chicago Bears started the season with a 4-0 record, but soon began to lose three of their next four games. They lost 42-35 to the Buccaneers in week five. In week six, they were tied at 33-28. In week eight, they fell to the Washington Redskins, 31-28. Ditka was furious after losing those games. Woolford, the rookie cornerback, was blamed for the loss. In week nine, the Bears had only one win and Ditka stated that they would never win another.
The 1989 season saw the Chicago Bears sink into the NFC Central basement. But Mike Ditka, the head coach, had other plans. Jim Harbaugh was made the starter, and the team’s defense was reestablished in 1990. After a disappointing season, the Bears were back in the NFC Central title match. Although the team finished 6-10 in 1989, the offseason moves made by the team influenced the team for years to come. Several of the aforementioned players were eventually traded or retired.
The Bears defense was among the best in history. The defense allowed only one touchdown in the entire season and only surrendered 10 points overall during the playoffs. This record was still a record, but it wasn’t the first. The 1985 Chicago Bears went on to win the Super Bowl 46-10, and were the first team in history to win a Super Bowl without giving up a touchdown. The team won the Super Bowl 10-4, beating the Giants and Rams without scoring a point the year before.
Ditka’s defense “46”
The Bears used Ditka’s “46” defense in 1989. It’s not a single-dimensional pressure defense. Instead, it uses a combination fronts and blitzes to force teams to game-plan. Ryan’s “strengths” included a wide receiver, tight end, and safety who lined up between the two.
In addition to Singletary, the defensive line included the legendary Mike Singletary. Singletary stayed in the middle while Mike Wilson was the top pass-rusher. Besides Singletary, there was free-lance cornerback Wilber Marshall, who contributed to Ditka’s “46” defense. The resulting unit finished the 1989 season ranked fifth in points allowed.
After the 1988 season, Ditka was fired from his post as defensive coordinator. Ryan was angry with Ditka for appointing a young defensive coordinator. He believed Ditka didn’t know anything about defense. During halftime of the Miami Dolphins game, Ditka and Ryan almost got into a physical brawl. That loss was the only defeat of the season. Ryan was also accused of offering bounty offers to players who didn’t play. Ditka also accused quarterback Troy Aikman of kicking the ball out of Thanksgiving game. The Philadelphia Eagles won.
After being named NFL Coach of the Year twice, Mike Ditka was named general manager of the Bears in 1991. His Chicago tenure included six NFC Central Division titles, three trips to the NFC title match and three trips to the NFC championship game. Ditka’s 1985 team was led by Walter Payton, a legendary running back, and one of the most formidable defenses in NFL history. In the 1989 Super Bowl, the Bears won their second Super Bowl in franchise history, beating the New England Patriots 46-10.
The Bears were reenergized by Ditka’s defense of “46” in 1988. After a disappointing season, Bears won again and the “46” defense proved to be an effective strategy that lasted. Ditka’s “46” defense ranked fifth among all NFL defenses during the 1989 season. The key to the team’s success during the 1989 season was Ditka’s defense of “46”.
Following the 1985 season, many Chicago Bears fans had unrealistic expectations. The 1989 Bears were 6-10. But their defense had changed. They won the division five consecutive seasons and made the NFC Championship game. The Bears’ defense was dominant and intimidated opposing players. The team then defeated the Los Angeles Rams as well as the New York Giants on consecutive cold, windy weekends at Soldier Field.