The Bears kept quarterback Rex Grossman on the sideline for the 2005 regular-season finale at the Metrodome and they yanked most of their key starters early in the first half of that game with nothing at stake.
Now, they're counting on the New York Giants, who have already secured the No. 1 seed and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs in the NFC, to go to Minnesota and play their hearts out. A Giants' victory coupled with a win by the Bears at Houston on Sunday will secure the NFC North for them. Otherwise, the Bears need a win and a loss by Dallas and Tampa Bay to wiggle in via the wild card. That scenario ranks highly unlikely.
Having New York go out at full strength seems almost as unlikely, not with running back Brandon Jacobs battling a knee issue that has lingered through the second half of the season. Not with some of the other injuries the Giants are dealing with.
"You've got to talk to them about that,'' Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "We're going to be at full strength. All of our guys will be out there playing. I know that for a fact."
Smith was asked if it is a tough decision, balancing the roster at season's end with a desire to win but a need to prepare for the postseason.
"I don't see it like that at all," Smith said. "You play to win, period. Last year, we were out of it with two games left to go in the season. We played every guy we had that we thought gave us an opportunity to win, we played them. There was no looking forward to the future and all that. You play every game like it is your last one, period. I assume all teams will do that."
That's not what the Bears did when they closed the season out against the Vikings in '02, however, having locked themselves into the No. 2 seed in the conference. They wanted Grossman's ankle to heal and other starters came out early, including middle linebacker Brian Urlacher.
Giants coach Tom Coughlin shed some light on the issue this morning at a press conference in New York as the Giants went to work on their normal day off because of the holiday week.
"Our position, as always, is we try to win every game,'' he said. "And my answer to all of your questions will be that in conjunction with the medical people and with the idea to improve our gave having individual performances at a higher level than we did in the last game, which is always our theme, we'll do the best thing for our football team. And the individual questions and all that stuff, you're going to have to wait on that because as I said, we're going to be able to look at and talk to the medical people to make decisions on that.
"We always believe at this time of the year it's important to be playing your best football. We'd like to continue to do that but we will do the right thing and the smart thing about our team."
Coughlin was asked if the Vikings' situation, needing a win to get into the playoffs, would play into his thinking and planning.
"Well, you have to be aware of the fact they they have a tremendous amount at stake and they are going to play as hard as they can possibly play," he said. "Every player in our locker room has to understand that. Forty-five guys we put on the field have got to play to the best of their ability with outstanding intensity, great physical play because we certainly expect and know that that is the mind set the Viking team will take and rightfully so."
The Giants went all-out in their finale last season against the New England Patriots even though New York was locked in as the No. 5 seed in the playoffs. That was a little different. History was on the line with the Patriots bidding for a perfect season. New York was looking to build momentum.
"No years are the same, no situations are the same," Coughlin said. "This will be dealt with as it should be under the context of where we are and again, as I said, the medical people will have a lot to say about that."
Sounds like he's prepping the Bears for bad news, that the doctors are going to hold some key players out of the game.
"It has nothing to do with me," Smith said. "Every coach in the league has a chance to do what he wants to with his team. We shouldn't have to think about what someone else is doing or help someone does something to help us. We need to do what we can do to help ourselves and that's win. It all comes back to one game, Houston. That's all we're going to concentrate on is that. We're all going to show up and try to get a win."