After winning the championship in 1985, the team seemed like a dynasty in the making. However, quarterback Jim McMahon showed up to training camp 25 pounds overweight – the product of the post-Super Bowl partying he'd partaken in. Nonetheless, he was once again named as the starter. Injuries, however, derailed his season. McMahon played in only six of the team's first 12 games.
In week 12, McMahon was on the receiving end of one of the most vicious hits in NFL history. In a game against the Green Bay Packers, McMahon was blindsided by Packers defensive lineman Charles Martin. Martin had gone into the game with a hit list of Bears players. McMahon was his first victim. After McMahon threw an interception, Martin hoisted the quarterback into the air and slammed him into the ground, a few seconds after the play had ended. McMahon writhed on the ground in pain, having suffered a separated shoulder. He was out for the remainder of the year. Still, the Bears won that game, and went undefeated for the rest of the regular season as well. McMahon's loss may have been a blessing in disguise, as by any standard, he was having a horrible season.
Aided by a strong offensive line, the Bears were once again led on offense by Walter Payton. Payton remained his usual stellar self, posting his 10th and final 1000-yard season. With McMahon's poor play, as well as the equally poor play of backups Mike Tomczak, Steve Fuller and Doug Flutie, Payton was the sole spark on offense, which ranked 13th in the NFL.
As had been the case the year before, the Bears were once again led by their explosive defense. Any shortcomings on the offensive side of the ball were more than made up for on the defensive side. They once again were ranked #1 in the NFL. The Bears' defense became the third defense in the history of the NFL to lead the league in fewest points allowed and fewest total yards allowed for two consecutive seasons. The Bears' 187 points allowed is the fewest surrendered by any team in the 1980s (other than the strike-shortened1982 season) – even fewer than the 198 points the Bears allowed in their historic 1985 season.
However, the Bears were not able to recapture their magic from the season before and were bounced from the playoffs in their first game by the Washington Redskins.
The 1986 Bears earned a first round playoff bye, but in their opening playoff game, they were upset at home by the Washington Redskins. A holding penalty and a missed field goal by Kevin Butler frustrated the Bears in the first quarter. They still, however, managed to take a 13–7 lead into halftime. But their usually stout defense fell apart in the second half, allowing the Redskins to score 20 unanswered points.
"Maybe my dreams didn't come true," said Chicago Coach Mike Ditka. "The defense has to play outstanding and today they were just not up to the way the Redskins were playing."
Despite injuries to Redskins offensive linemenJoe Jacoby and Russ Grimm, the Washington offensive line was able to pick up the Bears patented blitzes. Washington quarterback Jay Schroeder was sacked only twice. He was also able to use the blitzes to his advantage, completing passes while being chased out of the pocket.
Trailing 14–13 in the 4th quarter, the Bears good fortune ran out, when the usually dependable Payton lost a fumble, which led to an 83-yard touchdown drive by the Redskins. The long drive perpetrated against the NFL's best defense seemed to take the wind out of the Bears' sails. A few minutes later, the Bears muffed a punt return which set up an easy field goal for the Redskins. The Bears lost 27–13.