Don't you just hate it when someone tells you how a movie is going to end when you're only halfway through watching it?
That's the feeling unrequited Bears fans had Monday night after watching the Minnesota Vikings virtually write the second-half script for Chicago with a convincing 38-10 victory in front of 61,257 fans at Soldier Field.
The long-awaited showdown for first place in the NFC Central Division began with a drumroll and ended with taps for the Bears.
The Vikings (6-2) took a two-game lead over the Bears (4-4) in the standings, as well as a significant tiebreaker advantage in playoff calculations by virtue of their sweep in head-to-head confrontations.
With half a season to go, the Bears' fate is by no means sealed. Wild-card possibilities abound. But five of the Bears' last eight games are on the road, including four of the last five.
The Vikings won a Monday night road game for the first time since 1978, when they edged the Bears 24-20.
They handed coach Mike Ditka his worst home loss and the Bears their worst home loss since 1975, when Jack Pardee's club lost to Miami 46-13.
The Bears had won seven of their last eight games against the Vikings at Soldier Field before Monday night's dud.
First-year Vikings coach Dennis Green and defensive line coach John Teerlinck watched their front four of Chris Doleman, Henry Thomas, John Randle and Al Noga tee off on a beleaguered Bears offensive line.
They sacked quarterback Jim Harbaugh four times for 24 yards and pressured him on virtually every attempt.
Linebacker Jack Del Rio victimized Harbaugh with two interceptionsone for an 84-yard touchdown return. And linebacker Carlos Jenkins picked off backup quarterback P.T. Willis and returned it 19 yards for a score.
"We got thoroughly whipped," said Ditka. "And we have to give them all the credit in the world. They did a great job, and we kind of never got into the flow of what we wanted to do.
"I told the football team that we're better than we played. But we've got to prove that. We have to go back and start digging out of the ditch again. There's a long time left in the season. There's no use for anybody on our team or in our organization being down."
For the first time in eight games this season, the Bears did not score first. The Vikings marched 77 yards on 13 plays and took a 7-0 lead when Roger Craig plowed into the end zone from a yard out with 3 minutes 19 seconds left in the first quarter.
The Vikings converted 2 of 2 third-down situations as they controlled the ball for 7:56. Green deployed guard Randall McDaniel in the backfield during the drive and the 6-foot-3-inch, 280-pounder delivered a crushing block on linebacker Mike Singletary on a 6-yard run by Terry Allen, who gained 74 yards on 20 carries. He had another key block on linebacker Dante Jones on Craig's scoring run.
When Fuad Reveiz approached the ball on the ensuing kickoff, the wind blew the ball off the tee. The Bears' Ron Rivera ran and picked up the ball and sprinted to the end zone during the confusion. After the officials convened, it was determined that Reveiz had not touched the football, so there was no play.
The Bears turned the ball over with 7:59 left in the second quarter when Darren Lewis had the ball inadvertently elbowed out of his hands by teammate Keith Jennings. Chris Doleman recovered the fumble at the Bears' 32.
"Those things happen," Ditka said. "It certainly wasn't the turning point."
Nine plays later, Allen added a 1-yard score on fourth down to make it 14-0.
The Bears finally got on the board with 33 seconds left in the half when Kevin Butler kicked a 28-yard field goal.
Harbaugh directed the 69-yard drive, which stalled at the 11. He completed 6 of 8 passes on the march, including one for 21 yards to Anderson, who changed directions and broke several tackles along the way.
"It's just one loss; we'll go on from here," said Harbaugh, who was 16-of-24 for 149 yards with two interceptions. "We just got beat by a better team tonight. I don't think there's any question that we're going to win this division. We just have to buckle down and play hard from here on out."
The Bears appeared to get a huge break at the start of the second half when Allen fumbled and Shaun Gayle recovered at the Vikings' 21.
But on first down, Harbaugh's pass intended for Tom Waddle was intercepted by Del Rio, who returned it 84 yards for a touchdown and a 21-3 lead.
Waddle had gotten tangled up with umpire Neil Gereb on the crossing route, giving Del Rio a clean shot at the ball.
Del Rio intercepted his second pass of the night when Harbaugh's pass to Wendell Davis was tipped into his hands by linebacker Mike Merriweather.
The Vikings converted that turnover into a 28-yard field goal by Reveiz and a 24-3 lead by the end of the third period. The 58-yard drive featured a 37-yard pass from Rich Gannon (7 of 15 for 157 yards) to Joe Johnson and a 15- yard pass to Cris Carter.
The Vikings added to their lead with a 60-yard TD pass from Gannon to tight end Steve Jordan. Cris Carter leveled Bears free safety Mark Carrier with a devastating block on the play that made it 31-3.
The Vikings added to the embarrassment with Jenkins' 19-yard interception return for a touchdown off Willis.
The Bears scored a touchdown on a 14-yard pass from Willis to Davis (eight catches for 81 yards) with 4:14 left in the game. The drive covered 72 yards in nine plays.
"We didn't really make anything happen on either side of the ball and special teams," said Bears defensive end Trace Armstrong. "We're not beat yet. We're 4-4. We've got eight games left to play, and if you ask me if I think we can win all eight games, I think we can."