The Bears waved goodbye to Dave Wannstedt, who posted identical 4-12 campaigns during the final two seasons of his six-year stint as head coach. And they welcomed new coach Dick Jauron, as well as No. 1 draft pick Cade McNown, who at the time the Bears believed possessed the field generalship and talent to lead them at quarterback for years to come.
But by midseason, the Bears had won just four of their first nine contests. There was still a quarterback controversy in Chicago, involving the young rookie McNown, Shane Matthews and Jim Miller, once a starter for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Bears coaches adopted a strategy of starting Matthews and getting McNown's feet wet by allowing him to quarterback a series or two each game. Yet the plan wasn't achieving the desired results.
Miller, though, was beginning to emerge from the pack. Despite the Bears losing a thrilling overtime game to the Minnesota Vikings in Week 10, Miller electrified the Soldier Field faithful by throwing for 422 yards -- just the fourth time in team history that a quarterback has ever reached the 400-yard benchmark.
Miller was thriving under new offensive coordinator Gary Crowden's wide-open style, and the Bears were shedding their longtime reputation as a smash-mouth, run-oriented offense. The Michigan State product's breakout game versus Minnesota put him behind center the following week against the San Diego Chargers.
Going into the match-up, Crowden believed Miller's strong arm could slice up San Diego's suspect secondary for big gains. Crowden's hypothesis turned out to be correct.
The Chargers' roster featured a handful of former Bears, including Jeff Graham, Erik Kramer and starting QB Jim Harbaugh, whose touchdown pass with 1:53 remaining tied the game at 20-20 and forced it into OT – Chicago's second overtime game in as many weeks.
The Bears emerged with a 23-20 triumph as Chris Boniol kicked a 36-yard field goal to win it. However, Miller led the charge in OT by hooking up with emerging star Marcus Robinson for 31 yards on a third-and-6 situation, which kept the crucial drive alive.
Miller ended up completing 25 of 38 attempts for 357 yards and one touchdown -- that a 38-yarder to Robinson in the third quarter which forced a 10-10 tie. Robinson and Bobby Engram were the main beneficiaries of Miller's air show, catching 163 and 121 yards worth of passes, respectively.