Given an opportunity to gain the national respect they've been pining for, the Bears instead created questions about their legitimacy as a playoff contender as well as their preparation for Sunday's showdown with the New England Patriots.
We know this much: There is a major divide between the Bears and the AFC-leading Patriots, who showed absolutely no letdown coming off a short week and an emotional whipping of their division rival, the New York Jets. In fact, they had some fresh butt whipping to hand out. The only thing more deflated after the Bears' 36-7 loss Sunday afternoon was the Metrodome's roof.
Riding a five-game winning streak, the Bears were as loose as could be in the week leading up to the game. They got throttled, falling behind 33-0 at halftime, the largest halftime deficit in franchise history. In the swirling wind and falling snow, Tom Brady and his cast of receivers carved up a defense that can't play its signature Cover-2 successfully if it can't mount a pass rush.
In the mush, there was no pressure whatsoever on Brady, who completed 27 of 40 passes for 369 yards and two touchdown passes in completing his eighth consecutive game without an interception. The Patriots rolled up 475 yards of offense and Brady made a mockery of the Bears with a 59-yard touchdown pass to Deion Branch (8 receptions, 151 yards) on the final play of the first half when rookie free safety Major Wright got caught badly out of position, indicative of how unprepared the Bears were.
The Cover-2 — designed to prevent the big play — gave up the biggee.
But the game turned earlier in the second quarter after Danny Woodhead had scored on a 3-yard run to put the Patriots (11-2) ahead 14-0. On the very next play from scrimmage, cornerback Devin McCourty stripped Johnny Knox before his rear hit the ground and linebacker Gary Guyton scooped up the fumble and raced 35 yards for a touchdown. The rout was on.
"Every once in a while, in anything you do, when you try to get to the top, you get up there and someone usually kicks you back down and shows you what it takes to get there," center Olin Kreutz said. "If we can take the good out of this, it's that our level isn't high enough yet to be the world champs that we want to be. They showed us what the difference is between good and great.
"If we want to be great, we've got to learn from this."
The good news is the Detroit Lions won an NFC North game for the first time in more than three years, upsetting the Green Bay Packers 7-3 at Ford Field. The Bears (9-4) remain a game ahead of the Packers and can clinch the division with a victory over the Minnesota Vikings next Monday and a Packers' loss to the surging Patriots on Sunday. Where the Bears will play the Vikings remains to be seen, but indications are the game will be in Minnesota.
What are the Bears after this beatdown in what they like to call "Bear weather?" They had two close calls vs. the Lions, barely edged the Buffalo Bills and had consecutive embarrassing home losses in October. The top seed in the NFC now looks like an impossibility and you have to wonder how viable they are when their defense is emasculated. The Patriots were a well-oiled machine offensively, converting 12 of 19 third downs, while Jay Cutler, who threw two interceptions and lost one fumble, and the Bears looked like they were playing on a block the city forgot to plow. BenJarvus Green-Ellis spearheaded a Patriots' ground game that rolled up 124 yards. The Bears rushed for 47.
"That's the thing about our defense," tackle Tommie Harris said. "If you're a fast defense, you play better on turf or a fast surface. With their defense, it's a 3-4 where guys stand up, stand around. Really, traction, coming off the ball is not a problem for them.
"But that is no excuse. They just beat us."
So it remains to be seen if this will be the kick in the mouth that spurs the Bears to shore things up and make a late run. Or is it a precursor to a sign that the pieces aren't in place like general manager Jerry Angelo famously said during training camp. We'll see what happens. They get another opponent coming off a short week with the Giants-Vikings game being pushed back a day. The breaks keep lining up for the Bears.
"We know that we're going to play somewhere against them and it's a big game," Lovie Smith said. "It doesn't really matter where we play. We need to get a win."